Bring the Cute: Panda Diplomacy and the Charm Offensive
In a better world of my own design (I’m avoiding the word “utopia”—you see how that worked out for Thomas More) conflicts between nations are resolved by pandas, snow leopards and lemurs. (There are other components to my plan: reseeding the primeval forest from Maryland to the Mississippi, restocking free-range bison from the Mississippi to the Rockies, a guillotine on Madison Avenue as a warning to publicists, and secluding Dick Cheney and his Eurasian counterparts in Death Valley or the Rub' al Khali, where they can fight their own goddamn wars to their hearts content— but hey, it’s Christmas, so in the interests of Peace, I limit myself to the Cute Animal Problem.)
After years of negotiations, China is making a gift of two giant pandas to Taiwan named Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan. (Please note that on this blog, we will distinguish from the red panda, Ailurus fulgens.)
This is the first success after ten failed attempts at panda diplomacy between China and Taiwan since 1992. Even their names were problematic-- Taiwan wanted pandas named "Independence" maybe "Friendly Harmony", but "Reunion" and "Unify"--? Fahgeddaboutit! See, if the pandas are on "loan" from mainland China, per international wildlife statutes, then Taiwan is being treated as an independent state (yay), but that also means the taxpayers of Taiwan will have to pay Beijing for the privilege of having pandas (boo)... but if Taiwan accepts the pandas as a "gift" from the mainland, then that implies Taiwan is a province within China, and not an independent entity.
I thank the Baby Jesus that this was all about cute little fuzzballs (see illustration) and not about bombs or anxious refugees. No panda skipped a meal or worried about hidden training camps. I'm a Confucian, not a utopian; it's all about incremental changes, chipping away for a lifetime at the stones in my passway until they turn to pebbles and someday, Lord, turn to sand. As Melissa Etheridge said when deciding to let Rick Warren say the goddamn prayer. "Maybe if they get to know us, they wont fear us." There is a paranoid streak in Taiwan that won't give an inch to the pandas-- beware that cuteness, for it hides the dragon's claw-- but it was interesting to me that Taiwanese editorials blame the KMT for selling them out, since it was the Kuomintang that started all the trouble in the first place-- Sterling Seagrave's The Soong Dynasty is a good place to start on our dysfunctional relationships in that part of the world. Still, and I cannot say this enough, better to be sniping about pandas than about invasion plans and missiles.
Mock if you will, but more serious thinkers than me prefer cultural exchanges-- cute critters, Peace Corps volunteers, well-digging, road building, Habitat for Humanity and NGOs like Doctors without Borders-- to the bullying, bombs and puppet dictators we’ve used instead of diplomacy for the last fifty years. Richard Vague, for example, believes that sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan will not solve anyone’s problems: “…That is the last thing we need to do… The trouble is that we could defeat the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the warlords in Afghanistan again and again, but unless someone provides a viable economic path forward for the broad citizenry there, it won't matter. They'll just come back."
Here's to a year when the ascendant voices will not be those of the hysterical and the violent, but the protectors and the sharers and the builders. "Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too." Just a world where we can all smile at unconcerned, roly-poly pandas, joy without logos and without fear of either the madman in the crowd or the imperial satellites above.