According to the World Wildlife Fund, an organisation so fond of the Giant Panda that it employed the West's only one as its logo in the 1960s, there are only approximately 2,500 of them left in the wild, anywhere. China's rapidly growing economy hasn't exactly helped the bears thrive but conservation efforts have grown in the last few decades to ensure that the loveable critters don't vanish completely.
In the past, China has offered pandas to zoos around the world as part of what's been dubbed "Panda Diplomacy." Though the practice officially ended in 1984, a press release noting Monday's announcement that Edinburgh has been granted two pandas demonstrates that pandas and diplomacy go together like bears and bamboo. "The project represents the culmination of five years of political and diplomatic negotiation at the highest level," it states, "and it is anticipated the giant pandas will arrive in their new home as soon as a date is agreed."
China's other long-term diplomatic project, also culminating this week, doesn't involve fur and probably won't excite nearly as many school children. It has greater implications. I'm talking, of course, about the handover of long disputed territory from Tajikistan to China. The deal was cut more than a decade ago for the handover of the 1,000 square mile track of remote mountain land (and sorry panda fans, it's not really habitable for that particular endangered species), but the Tajik government didn't actually ratify the handover until Wednesday.
According to the BBC, "it is not clear where exactly the land to be ceded is or how many people live there." But apparently it was all resolved peacefully, save for Tajik opposition leader Mukhiddin Kabiri calling the move unconstitutional.
While the move may be largely symbolic, it is, like the trading of pandas, important to the world's second largest economy, second largest by land area, and which is getting a little bigger in Central Asia. The stretch of territory in question is in the Pamir mountains, and borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The English-language Chinese People's Daily newspaper reported this week that China and Pakistan are ramping up economic efforts to tie the two countries together. Meanwhile, relations with India are strained due to an incident in September 2010 in which it accused Chinese forces of entering Kashmir and threatening construction workers. In Tajikistan, China initially sought 11,000 square kilometers, and it currently claims rights on 90,000 square kilometers in northern India. Relations between China and India have been less than friendly since a 1962 war over territory, and China's growth in Central Asia is sure keep India's attention focused.