Panda Diplomacy: Can India Get One from China?

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The Narendra Modi-led Indian government has made its intentions and priorities clear from the Day 1. The new dispensation has been redrawing the terms of engagement within its immediate neighbourhood.

India, China have had a chequered past. Will the Sino-Indian ties be redefined, and a new chapter unfolds in the relationship? The answer lies in Panda Diplomacy!

China uses giant pandas as a diplomatic gift to other countries, popularly known as Panda Diplomacy. This practice dates back to the 7th century during the Tang Dynasty, when Empress Wu Zetian (625-705) sent a pair of pandas to the Japanese emperor.

Beijing gave Bronx Zoo bear to US as a mark of gratitude for American help during World War II. In the 1950s, Chairman Mao Zedong had made the practice commonplace, with bears given as gifts to the communist allies like North Korea and Soviet Union.

From 1958 to 1982, China gifted 23 pandas to 9 different countries. In 1999, as Beijing prepared for the handover of Hong Kong from the British, panda bears were sent as a gesture of goodwill.

Recently, China sent a pair of pandas to Malaysia. China inked a deal with Malaysia to loan a pair of pandas in 2012. While the pandas were initially scheduled to be sent in April 2014, China suddenly held off on sending them, in order to express anger over the handling of missing Malaysian Airline MH 370. Finally, the handover happened in the month of May.

Why not India?

India never got any panda from China. The relation between China and India can be characterised on the basis of border disputes which has resulted into three military conflicts, the Sino-Indian war of 1962, the Chola incident in 1967 and the 1987 Sino- Indian skirmish.

In 2013, came the fourth dispute between the two countries when a PLA platoon was found to have set up camp 30 km south of Daulat Beg Oldi in Ladakh, near Aksai Chin, which is claimed by India as an inextricable part of Jammu and Kashmir, and by China as a strategically vital bridge between Xinjiang and Tibet.

However, since the late 1980s both the countries have successfully attempted to reignite the diplomatic and economic ties. In 2008, China emerged as India's largest trading partner. The two countries have extended their strategic and military relations.

"China is ready for the final settlement of the border disputes with India, and prepared to invest more in the South Asian nation if trade rules are eased," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.

As Gujarat CM, Narendra Modi had established good relations with China.The new Indian prime minister is viewed positively in China for his pro-development image.

The stage is set for India and China to get closer like never before. The moot question is: Will Modi be able to bring pandas from China?

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.