Environmental Practice


ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS AND CASE STUDIES: Diplomats and Refugees: Panda Diplomacy, Soft “Cuddly” Power, and the New Trajectory in Panda Conservation

Kathleen Carmel Buckinghama1 c1, Jonathan Neil William Davida2 and Paul Jepsona3

a1 School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

a2 School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

a3 School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom


China's practice of gifting and loaning giant pandas has been given new impetus as a result of damage to panda-conservation facilities caused by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and China's rise as an economic power. We suggest that a new, third phase of panda diplomacy is under way that is distinct from the previous two. Phase 1 during the Mao era (in the 1960s and 1970s) took the form of China gifting pandas to build strategic friendships. Phase 2 followed Deng Xiaoping's rise to power in 1978 when gifts became gift loans involving a capitalist lease model based on financial transactions. In the emerging phase 3, panda loans are associated with nations supplying China with valuable resources and technology and symbolize China's willingness to build guanxi—namely, deep trade relationships characterized by trust, reciprocity, loyalty, and longevity. Notable is the correlation of guanxi loan deals with nations supplying resources and technologies to China in the aftermath of the 2008 earthquake in panda habitat. As captive breeding resumes with the completion of repairs to the earthquake-damaged Wolong Breeding center, we predict that panda diplomacy will increase and that panda conservation, more than ever, will be the outcome of a complex, dynamic interplay among politics, markets, and conservation science.

Environmental Practice 15:262–270 (2013)

(Received November 01 2012)

(Revised March 12 2013)

(Accepted March 20 2013)


c1 Kathleen Carmel Buckingham, University of Oxford, School of Geography and the Environment, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, United Kingdom; (e-mail) kathleenbuckingham@gmail.com

Jonathan Neil William David is currently reading for a DPhil in the School of Geography at the University of Oxford. Prior to this, he was involved in developing a global index to assess the impact of climate change on freshwater ecosystems for the European Union project BioFresh. He holds an MSc in biodiversity, conservation, and management from Oxford University and a BSc in biological sciences from Warwick University. His work focuses on integrating climate change into systematic conservation plans for freshwaters and addressing conservation issues facing freshwater megafauna.

Paul Jepson directs an MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management and leads an interdisciplinary Conservation Governance Lab at the School of Geography, University of Oxford. He moved into academia from a successful career in urban and then international conservation policy and management. In his current research, he is exploring the implications of new technological forces for conservation science, policy, and practice. He is author of Conservation: A Beginners Guide (2010), and his academic articles are available from www.geog.ox.ac.uk/staff/pjepson.html.


  This article was written while Kathleen Buckingham was writing her DPhil thesis at the University of Oxford. She has since graduated.