Animal diplomacy can have powerful appeal, as French President Emmanuel Macron showed when he visited China this week.
Keen to convey his “determination to get the Europe-China partnership into the 21st century”, the French leader gave President Xi Jinping a rare gelding horse named Vesuvius. The horse represented an “unprecedented diplomatic gesture”, Reuters quoted Macron’s office as saying.
Here is a look at some of the other animals that China has either given or received over the years in the name of good international relations and extending power and influence abroad.
China’s “national treasure”, the giant panda tops the country’s list of animals most often used in diplomacy. Pandas were first given as gifts in the 7th century during the Tang dynasty (618-907), when a Chinese empress gave two pandas to a Japanese ruler.
Between the 1950s and 1982, China gifted some nine countries with 23 giant pandas. One highlight of this period was Mao Zedong presenting US president Richard Nixon with two pandas, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, following Nixon’s historic 1972 China visit.
China stopped giving pandas as gifts in 1982 – now it lends the animals to other countries for 10-year periods.
The latest instalment of “panda diplomacy” occurred in September when China gave Indonesia two giant pandas to commemorate 60 years of bilateral ties.
Zoos in 15 countries have pandas on 10-year loans from China.
2 Crested ibis
The crested ibis, an endangered bird species under national first-class protection, has been presented as a state gift from China to Japan and South Korea for research purposes.
From 1998 to 2007, China gave five of the birds to Japan, where they had become extinct.
Japan received another in 2012 during the 40th anniversary celebration of the Japan-China Joint Communiqué.
China also gave a breeding pair to South Korea in 2008, when then president Hu Jintao visited former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak.
China sent two Siberian tigers to South Korea as a symbol of the countries’ friendship in 2005. One of the animals died a year later from kidney failure.
China’s “panda diplomacy” set many countries off on quests to reciprocate the friendly gesture with offers of rare animals of their own.
Macron’s gift of a retired horse from the elite French Republican Guard was not the first horse given to China by a foreign country. Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov gave an Akhal-Teke horse, the national emblem of Turkmenistan, to Xi during Berdimuhamedov’s visit to China in 2014, which was also the Year of the Horse.
China’s neighbour Mongolia in 2015 presented a Mongol horse to Xi to show the country’s desire to build a friendly bilateral relationship.
The elephant tops the list of animal gifts China has received from South Asian countries.
Sri Lanka gave Asian elephants to China in 1972 and 1979, and again in 2007 to mark the countries’ 50 years of bilateral ties and to represent their friendship.
Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh sent Mao two Asian elephants in 1953 and another in 1960.
Former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe gave two lionesses to China as a “state gift” to commemorate 35 years of bilateral ties in 2015. The big cats were sent to the Shanghai Wild Animal Park, where a China-Zimbabwe Friendship Square was later added, according to China News Service.
4 Aldabra giant tortoise
Seychelles gave China two Aldabra giant tortoises, one of the world’s largest tortoise species, at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
Another two Aldabra giant tortoises, now in Xiamen, Fujian province, were 2012 gifts from Mauritius to signify smooth relations with China.