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Client Update - 29th September 2023

As my weekly emails quite often end up focussing on US politics or the US Federal Reserve, I thought I would take a slightly different tact this week and look at the relationship between the US and China. Things have evidently taken a further turn for the worse with the news that on loan Giant Pandas are being repatriated back to China as an end to “Panda Diplomacy” beckons.


In Washington DC’s National Zoo, three Pandas live in the zoo’s $50 million Asia Trail. T-shirts, trucker hats and refrigerator magnets bear their image. A 24-hour “panda-cam” broadcasts the trio’s every move, but not for much longer. Now, after more than 50 years, Washington’s pandas are going away — and maybe for good. The zoo’s three pandas are set to return to China by December with the expiration of a three-year agreement with China’s wildlife agency that month. It’s not just the US capital. The three other US zoos that have Chinese pandas — Atlanta, San Diego and Memphis — have all either turned over their pandas or will see them return to China by the end of next year.


Although both sides deny politics are at play, the Economist reports that China has long used “Panda Diplomacy” to gain favour, reward friends and punish adversaries. And the potential loss of America’s last pandas comes at a moment when ties between the US and China have hit a historic low.


The push-and-pull over pandas reflects in part the quirky way they show up in zoos around the world. Zoos don’t get full custody of pandas. Instead, they rent them, signing contracts to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to China. The US was rewarded with its first pandas after President Richard Nixon normalized ties in 1972 with China and many other nations followed. A 2013 study found a rather fascinating correlation between uranium deals and panda loans to Canada and France. In 2018, China loaned out pandas to Finland to mark a centennial of Finnish independence.


“From the goodwill gestures of Nixon-era diplomacy, they’ve evolved into today’s emblems of discord,” said Lizzi C. Lee, a fellow at the Chinese Economy program at the Asia Society Policy Institute. “Pandas have become canvases for narratives of distrust and rivalry.”


Talking about distrust and rivalry, it seems there is another US Government shutdown looming, with a late deal to avert a shutdown beginning this weekend seemingly unlikely. US House of Representatives speaker Kevin McCarthy is making big demands of President Joe Biden and bringing little leverage to the clash and frustrating many US public sector workers whose pay checks failed to materialise during the last lockdown.


The Republican leader counts as one of his proudest achievements an agreement on long-term spending cuts he extracted from Biden in last spring’s showdown over a potential US debt default and now he wants to use a shutdown to get more concessions. “I want to sit down with the president to secure that border,” McCarthy told reporters Wednesday, as he and Republican hardliners demanded a resumption of construction on Donald Trump’s border wall, stricter new asylum and immigration policies, no new aid to Ukraine and deeper federal spending cuts in return for temporarily keeping the government open. There certainly doesn’t seem to be much pandering to public opinion in the US right now.


Do have a good weekend.

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