Giant pandas are returning to D.C. by the end of this year, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute announced today.

Two-year-old male Bao Li and female Qing Bao from China will be making their debut in D.C. once their care team determines they are ready for the public’s eye a few weeks after their 30-day quarantine ends.

“We’re thrilled to announce the next chapter of our breeding and conservation partnership begins by welcoming two new bears, including a descendent of our beloved panda family, to Washington, D.C.,” said Brandie Smith, NZCBI’s John and Adrienne Mars Director in a statement.

The news of their arrival comes after two giant pandas and their cub — Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji — left the District in 2023 after a heartfelt goodbye from fans across the nation. With tensions running high between China and the U.S. over trade, Taiwan and other issues, the pandas departure left Americans pessimistic about relations with China.

Last year, a Chinese spy balloon flying over American territory was shot down, straining the delicate relationship even more. According to a Military Times article, the U.S. State and Defense departments believed the balloon was a military surveillance effort, though China has refuted this claim, saying it was a “civilian research balloon” that went off track.

In recent years, pandas across the U.S. were removed by China as relations deteriorated, but conversations between Presidents Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping last October inspired hope for more “pandaplomacy” as Xi mentioned the possibility of a return of the cuddly, black-and-white bears to the U.S. as “envoys of friendship.”

Pandas have been symbolic of a stable U.S.-China friendship since 1972 when China first gifted a pair to the U.S.

The new cooperative research and breeding agreement is effective until April 2034, with conditions like the last one. The agreement says that a male and female giant panda will be sent for breeding from China to NZCBI, but they, and any offspring produced, will remain under China’s ownership.

According to the Smithsonian, the agreement states any pandas born will be sent back to China before they turn 4 and cooperative research projects will be conducted by NZCBI and Chinese partners in both China and D.C.

Without using federal funding, NZCBI will pay an annual fee of $1 million to the China Wildlife Conservation Association in support of research and conservation efforts.

“The Smithsonian and Chinese partners will work together to innovate new techniques and pursue research to contribute to the health and welfare of giant pandas in human care and expand work critical to the conservation of giant pandas in the wild,” the release states.

Cristina Stassis is an editorial fellow for Defense News and Military Times, where she covers stories surrounding the defense industry, national security, military/veteran affairs and more. She is currently studying journalism and mass communication and international affairs at the George Washington University.

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