37th & The World

37th & The World: What happened to America's pandas?

November 29, 2023 Dennis Wilder Season 4 Episode 1
37th & The World
37th & The World: What happened to America's pandas?
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Show Notes Transcript

Earlier this month, thousands of visitors flocked to Washington's National Zoo and watched as the famed three giant pandas left DC on a plane back to Beijing. How has this affected US-China relations, and what does the recent APEC summit mean for future US-China diplomacy?

37th & The World sits down with Dennis Wilder, a former senior American intelligence official currently serving as a professor of practice at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and a senior fellow of Georgetown's Initiative for US-China Dialogue on Global Issues. He is also a member of the National Committee on US-China Relations.

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Unknown:

You're listening to 37 in the worlds the official podcast of the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, the flagship academic publication of Georgetown University's Law School of Foreign Service on 37th. In the world, we dive into crucial global trends and speak directly with experts working on issues ranging from security to the economy, technology to society and more. Today's episode takes a look at US China relations following the return of three giant pandas from Washington Smithsonian National Zoo, that to China earlier this month. While the pandas are once a symbol of global global cooperation, there are mobile comes at a time when tensions between the two superpowers are growing. I'm your host for today, Cal O'Neill. I'd like to welcome Professor Dennis Wilder, a senior fellow for the initiative for us China dialogue on global issues at Georgetown University. He previously served as National Security Council's director for China between 2004 and 2005. Then as the NSC Special Assistant to the President and senior director for East Asian affairs 2005 2009. Professor Wilder is also the author writing leading more Levin's and manage competition finding answers and US China diplomatic history. Professor Wilder thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I'd like to begin by giving our audience some context for this conversation. While updates on the pandas returns have been flooding the news feeds for the last couple of weeks. This American Chinese panda partnership has existed for decades. Can you give us some background on the history of this partnership and China's use of piano diplomacy on a broader scale? The

Dennis Wilder:

first Chinese pandas to the United States were in 1941 when Madame Chiang Kai Shek, the wife of the general Alyssa Mo, decided to 10 Send to baby pandas to the Bronx Zoo. It took them 94 days to get them the United States. They had to fly over Japanese held territory to get the Hong Kong the ship that had sailed on the SS Coolidge which will learn to one of the president liners actually was at sea when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. And so these pandas went through a lot to get to the United States in 1971. Kissinger is sent by Nixon secretly to Beijing to negotiate. And in 1972, Nixon and his wife and a large party went to Beijing to normalise relations. During the dinner, Pat Mixon, Nixon's wife looked at a can of cigarettes, and on the can of cigarettes was a panda. And she pointed to them and said to premier jouin lie. I really liked those. And he said the cigarettes edition said no, the pandas. And he then said, well, we'll send you to pandas. And so, in 1972, immediately after the visit to pandas were sent to the National Zoo. Now at that point, we got them for free. So they were a gift to the to the United States. And those pandas lived their entire lives at the zoo. In the 80s, when those two pandas died of old age, there was an agreement made to lease pandas. And so from the mid 80s Onward, the National Zoo and other zoos in the United States leased Chinese Pandas for approximately $1 million each a year. And these typically are 10 year leases. So this year, the pandas went home because the lease ran out. But what is bothering Americans is that the Chinese weren't willing to renew the lease for more pandas.

Unknown:

So amid this termination of the lease on pandas last week, President Biden and President Xi met face to face for the first time in a year at the APEC summit. During a dinner speech, President Xi said, we are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation, and do our best to meet the wishes of Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples. What does this month's removal of the pandas imply about the state of US China relations today? And could President Xi's signalling of their return suggests a path forward towards collaboration and reduce tensions?

Dennis Wilder:

Great question. First of all, I think what he said shows that they were holding back pandas from us because of politics. He wouldn't have said it in that manner if it wasn't the nature of things. President Xi had an excellent visit to California and we can talk about that later. But he clearly wanted to signal that they were ready to lease new pandas to the United States, which is great and I'm I was a little concerned that he talked about the San Diego Zoo and not the National Zoo. But he was in California. Governor Newsom had just had a good trip to China. So it's possible that he just wanted to emphasise the San Diego Zoo. Actually, San Diego Zoo may not be ready to take the pandas. It's been four years since they had pandas, they put other animals in the exhibit area, whereas the National Zoo is up and ready to go. So if I were at the National Zoo, I think I'd be calling my Chinese counterparts and indicating we're up and ready. I predict that the first pandas to come back to the United States will come to the National Zoo, because Bay have an incredibly well developed panda programme there. So

Unknown:

shifting gears away from the pandas. Another notable event from the meeting was the reopening of military dialogue between the US and China. Could you share the potential implications on global security and reducing tensions, not

Dennis Wilder:

to get too technical, because when you get into these military talks, they get very complicated, but let me explain the two dialogues that we were reopened, we're at working levels. So for example, one of them is called the M M. Ca. It's a maritime agreement, where operators in fact, Navy to Navy operators get together on the Chinese and American side. And they discuss how to avoid incidents at sea and incidents in the air. In the South China Sea east China see this kind of thing. It's very tactical, it isn't strategic in nature, it's not supposed to be, it's supposed to be just dealing with, if you will, trying to put guardrails on the situation. The other one is called the DP T. And again, that's very working level, military to military talks, not at a senior level. The third thing that was put back in place is the hotline between our commander in the Indo Pacific in Honolulu, and the commander of the Eastern theatre forces, the idea is to make sure that if there's an incident or crisis, dealing with Taiwan, our Indo Pacific commander can talk to his counterpart, commander who would be in charge of that situation. So that's an important step forward. Also, I think that the once the Chinese have picked a new defence minister, and they don't have a Defence Minister right now, but once they do, I think they will open that channel with Secretary Austin. So this is all important, but what hasn't been restored our strategic level discussions between our military and their military. So we used to have dialogues, for example, at the senior levels of the office of Secretary defence with their counterparts, those talks have been suspended. And so far, the Chinese haven't indicated that they're willing to have those talks again.

Unknown:

Thank you for that. So to wrap this episode, I'd love to take a look towards the future. What are your key takeaways from this meeting? And where do you see the future of US China relations headed?

Dennis Wilder:

You know, the Chinese love to say that we need Win Win cooperation. And in this case, there was Win win on both sides. Let me explain. For the Biden administration, one of the most important things that they needed to get out of this summit was an agreement on fentanyl, and fentanyl precursors. If you've been following this story, 800,000 Americans a year are dying of fentanyl overdoses. It is the largest killer of 18 to 45 year old Americans today. So we have to find a way to stop these chemicals from coming into the United States. And companies in China are directly responsible for getting those precursors to Mexico, where the GaNS make them into pills. We haven't been able to get the Chinese to shut this down because of how badly relations had been for a while. But at the summit, Xi Jinping agreed to shut it down and in fact, we are already seeing very positive stems from the Chinese. At the same time, the administration lifted sanctions on a section of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, which was one of the precondition the Chinese had. Secondly, we had wanted the military to military relationship restarted with the Chinese. This had been shut down because of the Pelosi visit to Taiwan last August. And there were eight different military military communications that were shut down. The Chinese agreed to restore two of those, and they're important ones. It's not a complete restoration yet, but it is a step in the right direction. And hopefully these kinds of communications will help us avoid incidents at sea or incidents in the air, which you may know there have been some unsafe activities by Chinese aircraft and ships that have been worrying people a lot. Now, on the Chinese side, what Xi Jinping wanted most out of this visit was respect. He wanted a great visit to San Francisco where he would be seen to have been welcomed by the American people in a very first class fashion. And so if you looked at the atmospherics, he got a lot of what he wanted. First of all, the meeting was at a grand estate. In fact, they filmed dynasty there for many years. President Biden did all kinds of things that were very personal. Biden, remember that Madame Pons birthday is this week and he said something to him about it. He actually showed him on his phone a picture of Xi Jinping, when he visited as a young man standing near the Golden Gate Bridge. He even as they were leaving, went out and complimented Xi Jinping on his armoured car and looked inside it and said, Wow, what a vehicle you've got. And then Danny pointed out what we call the beast, which is the American vehicle, which is not as sleek as the Chinese vehicle. It's just a big, kind of nasty vehicle. But the second part that was really important to Xi Jinping was a big dinner in San Francisco, with all of the kingpins of American industry. So, Elon Musk was there, Tim Cook of Apple was there. Watzmann, who's a very big player Steve Schwarzman, and others. In order to sit up at TED table, you had to pay$40,000 If you just wanted to sit at one of the regular tables, you had to pay $2,000 A person. And Xi Jinping got a standing ovation. He delivered a speed and so on Chinese Central TV I watched it CCTV for is the national channel. And on that channel. It was Xi Jinping taking San Francisco by storm. You almost didn't know that there was an APEC summit and anybody else but Xi Jinping there as a foreign leader. So it was overwhelmingly a Xi Jinping show. And it was a show of Americans very much. paying him the respect the Chinese leader feels they should have so I think both sides gained a lot.

Unknown:

Just 37 from the world, the official podcast of the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, please be sure to subscribe and leave a comment and rating on whichever streaming platform you use. To support the podcast. You can click on the link in this podcast description. It says support the show. To read other insightful interviews and articles, please check out gujiya.georgetown.edu