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From China, with strings attached

Now that Denmark has accepted a Chinese gift of two pandas, they will be expected to give something in return. Greenland's minerals are at the top of their wish list
I always knew I should have been a polar bear

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China’s gift of two giant pandas to the Copenhagen Zoo last month might have been more than just a friendly gesture. 

Far from free, the gift, presented to the Danish state during an official visit by Queen Margrethe II in April, is actually a form of leasing agreement that will see Copenhagen Zoo pay 10 million kroner ($1.9 million) annually to house the pair.

But China experts warn that the cost may in fact be much higher if China follows its standard practice and expects something in return for the gift.

“They aren’t doing this out of the goodness of their hearts,” said Mette Holm, a long-time Danish China watcher. “This is about Greenland. The Chinese want to get their hands on raw materials and rare earths. China is looking out for its Arctic interests.”

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Martin Lidegaard, the Danish foreign minister, who was also on hand during the surprise announcement, made it clear that the Chinese had not placed any conditions on the loan. Holm, though, said Denmark would likely be expected to reciprocate at some point.

“Getting a Panda is a gesture of monumental proportions. I doubt Danes understand how big it is.”

Giving pandas to other countries in exchange for improved relations or trade deals – known as panda diplomacy – is a well-documented Chinese practice. Experts say that when China loans out the symbolic and endangered animal, it expects something in return. 

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Kathleen Buckingham, an Oxford University scholar who has documented China’s panda diplomacy, said this appeared to be the case here.

Even thought it might not have been aware of it, by accepting the panda bear, she said Denmark had indicated that it was willing to enter into an agreement with the Chinese.

“Countries need to think twice about the broader consequences of agreeing to an offer to loan out a panda,” she said. “It means that China expects some form of long-term concessions.”