China has indicated to U.S. officials that it will once again share pandas with American zoos just weeks after recalling the last pandas available to the U.S., showing the political tool the endangered species have become. 

"We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation, and do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples," Chinese President Xi Jinping said Wednesday during a dinner speech with business leaders.

"I was told that many American people, especially children, were really reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas, and went to the zoo to see them off," Xi said in his speech. He added that he learned the San Diego Zoo and people in California "very much look forward to welcoming pandas back."

Pandas have served as a symbol of Chinese friendship with various allies, starting with a gift of two pandas to the National Zoo in Washington in 1972, ahead of normalized bilateral relations. China then loaned out pandas to other American zoos. 

Pandas once existed across China, Myanmar and Vietnam, but today only extend to "pockets" of bamboo forests in western China, according to the National Geographic Society. Around 1,850 pandas are alive in the wild, with another 300 in captivity. 

Giant panda in Washington

Giant panda Xiao Qi Ji plays at his enclosure at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington on Sept. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

The offer follows China’s move to recall three pandas just last week, leaving only four giant pandas in the U.S. as part of its "panda diplomacy," according to The Washington Post. An expert on China’s panda manipulations told the Post that it likely signals Beijing’s displeasure with "how things are going."

Tensions between Beijing and Washington have grown incredibly brittle over the last few years, starting with the Trump administration’s trade war. China holds a strong line against the U.S. on various policies – most pointedly, Taiwan and the island’s future – but recent signs indicate trouble for China. 

biden, xi jinping

President Biden, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together after a meeting during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Week in Woodside, California, Nov. 15, 2023. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. economy is growing faster than China’s for the first time in decades, and China’s slowing growth has endangered its target to overtake the U.S. economy by 2050, with some experts suggesting that it may not ever overtake the U.S. now. 

China has also dropped to the third-most exporter to the U.S. behind Canada and Mexico. 

Giant panda eating bamboo

Tian Tian, pictured here, will be leaving Washington, D.C., this December after living at the National Zoo for 23 years. (Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images)

Wednesday's face-to-face meeting was the first between Xi and President Biden on U.S. soil – and the first such meeting in a year since last year’s powwow in Indonesia. Further talks had been suspended following then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. 

The latest meeting, which took place at a luxury estate just outside of San Francisco, ultimately proved fruitful, with China pledging to tackle fentanyl production and agreeing to resume military-to-military communications.

Biden said afterward that the meeting included "some of the most constructive and productive discussions we’ve had," adding the two nations will "keep the lines of communication open" and Xi is "willing to pick up the phone."

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