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NYC Billionaire Lobbying China to Loan Pandas to Central Park Zoo

Published: November 21, 2023
Young pandas are pictured eating bamboo during feeding time at the Panda Breeding Center in Chengdu, China on June, 11, 2008. (Image: Paula Bronstein via Getty Images)

New York billionaire John Catsimatidis is on a mission to bring pandas to the Central Park Zoo, arguing that the popular animals would attract millions of dollars worth of economic activity and help revitalize Lower Manhattan which is still struggling to recover following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’ll even pick them up,” Catsimatidis told the NY Post, adding that, “Kids have nothing to look forward to in New York City right now. It will be a symbol of peace and culture.”

What Catsimatidis is championing is what is referred to as “panda diplomacy,” which is China’s practice of sending giant pandas to other countries as a show of friendship and cooperation. 

From 1941 to 1984 China gifted pandas to other countries. However this changed in 1984 when pandas began to be leased to other countries instead of gifted following a change in policy. Zoos around the globe pay upwards of $1-million a year, per panda, to host them. 

Catsimatidis says he is already in contact with a Chinese ambassador who he is working with to bring the animals to the Big Apple. 

This is not the first attempt at panda diplomacy for Catsimatidis. In 2017 he urged then-president Donald Trump and his sons Donald Jr. and Eric Trump to join an effort to import two pandas to New York City. 


Pandas returned to China

In recent years, more and more pandas, on loan to various zoos across the United States, have been returned to China, leaving just four pandas in a zoo in Atlanta.

Earlier this November, pandas Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and their cub Xiao Qi were returned to China after a years-long stay at Washington’s National Zoo, following failed negotiations to keep the popular animals stateside. 

Many view the loss of the animals as more evidence of the deteriorating relationship between China and the United States. However, communist party leader, Xi Jinping has recently indicated he is open to loaning more pandas to American zoos.

Shortly after the trio of pandas returned to China from Washington’s National Zoo, Xi said that he was open to dispatching more pandas, calling the animals “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.”

In addition, last week, at a dinner hosted by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and the U.S.-China Business Council, Xi reportedly said, “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,” adding that, “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.”


‘The city really needs it’

Catsimatidis told the Daily Mail that “the city really needs it,” adding that successful negotiations would show a “desire to have peace in the world” between the United States and China.

He called any potential deal, “peace through pandas.”

Part of his push to bring the animals to New York is a press conference he will be holding on Nov. 21, where 3,000 people are expected to converge on New York’s Carnegie Hall, where Catsimatidis is set to speak alongside a Chinese ambassador to the U.S..

If successful, Catsimatidis says a panda display in New York City would “rival the Statue of Liberty” as a city landmark and would help fill city coffers which are strained under the burden of supporting thousands of migrants, in addition to ballooning costs to run the city.

Catsimatidis says the next step, following his press conference, is to establish a commission to facilitate a potential transfer of the animals from China to New York.