China suggests giant pandas could return to US by end of 2024

China reaffirmed on Friday that the United States could reintroduce giant pandas by the end of the year, as long as the two countries can coexist peacefully.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the announcement Friday at a commemorative ceremony marking the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States. Associated Press reported.

Giant pandas from zoos in Memphis, Tennessee and Washington, D.C. returned to China last fall. The move caused some to fear that rising tensions between the two countries could prompt China to cut the loan program entirely and take bears from U.S. zoos.

At the San Francisco summit in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping raised hopes for California, saying his government was ready to continue cooperating with the United States on panda conservation. He added that China will “do its best to meet the demands of the people of California in order to deepen the friendly relations between the two peoples.”

“We are ready for giant pandas to return to California by the end of the year,” Wang said at Friday's event.

The panda exchange program with China began in 1973 under an agreement brokered by then-President Richard Nixon, with some of the popular animals being loaned to U.S. zoos for research purposes. The only remaining pandas in the United States are at Zoo Atlanta, and that agreement is set to expire this year.

Mr. Wang noted that the recent meeting between President Biden and President Xi Jinping is optimistic about the future relationship. He added that the two leaders recently exchanged letters of congratulations to mark their diplomatic anniversary.

“China-US cooperation is no longer an indispensable option for both countries or the world, but a question that requires answers that must be taken seriously,” Wang said at an event for 300 people in Beijing.

China and the United States are trying to forge a new relationship following the meeting between Biden and Xi in November. As Beijing continues to rise economically and militarily and tensions over autonomous Taiwan rise, questions remain about how the two world powers can coexist.

“The world is currently undergoing the greatest change in 100 years,” Wang said at the event. “We have to think about how to adjust the direction of the big ship that is China-US relations.” [and] Avoid hidden reefs and dangerous shoals. ”

US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said in December that although relations between the two countries had not necessarily improved, he remained hopeful for the future.

The Associated Press contributed.

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