The need for “Animal Spirits” in our diplomacy: In the spring of 1972, following then President Nixon’s historic, breakthrough visit to Beijing (then Peking), the Chinese government donated two giant pandas to the National Zoo in Washington DC. Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing went on to become celebrities in the national capital, generating reams of warm, cuddly stories, long before Joseph Nye developed his concept of “soft power.” By the time I came to DC in 1994, Ling Ling, the female, had died, but Hsing Hsing carried on the mantle, generating even more stories about how lonely and heartbroken he was. The couple had five panda cubs but none survived. Hsing Hsing too passed away in 1999, generating another wave of glutinous nostalgia (all this time, no one ever heard of the two musk oxen Nixon had given the Chinese in return). The Chinese government realized it was on to a good thing, so in 2000, it LOANED a couple more panda for a small fee of $ 10 million, even as it continued to wreck the American economy and poked a finger in U.S eye by supporting terrorist states like North Korea and Pakistan, and twitted its allies such as South Korea and Japan. You really gotta hand it to the Chinese; they know how to run rings around U.S. Anyway, to continue the story of how they pandared to the Americans, Tian Tian (seen here in a pix I took last month) and Mei Xiang ruled the roost for more than a decade. Early last year, Mei Xiang was knocked up through artificial insemination, and she gave birth in summer to a giant panda cub. Such birth in captivity being very rare, it generated another bout of hysteria, including a widely-publicized naming competition. The online vote went to Bao-Bao, and such was the importance of this “Panda diplomacy” that First Lady Michelle Obama was part of the whole circus some weeks back. It ain’t over yet. Bao Bao made his public debut this weekend, generating another crop of stories.
Here are a couple of them Washington Post Panda Story
So here’s my question: Where are our elephants, tigers, rhinos, etc? Why haven’t we milked this line of diplomacy? Where are the animal spirits in our conduct of foreign relations? Have we missed a trick or two here? Perhaps some of our current and ex-diplomat friends will tell us.