About those pandas: a modest alternative proposal

To reject outright China’s generous offer of exotic creatures for public display would be unwise, of course


The announcement during Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent trip to China that two giant pandas will be provided to Canadian zoos signaled a long-awaited turning point toward more cordial bilateral relations.

For five years at Toronto’s zoo, followed by five more at Calgary’s, Er Shun and Ji Li will no doubt warm the hearts of many thousands. And yet, given China’s human rights record, it’s hard to celebrate the prospect without a slight pang of misgiving.

To reject outright China’s generous offer of exotic creatures for public display would be unwise, of course, in light of the realities of the changing global economy. Still, a compromise option might be worth considering.

Rather than flatly turning down the pandas, why not suggest a diplomatic alternative? What I have in mind is for Prime Minister Harper to request instead the loan for a decade of Liu Xiaobo, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.

Practical objections will naturally be raised. After all, wherever Beijing has provided them, giant pandas have proven unrivaled attractions at the fortunate host zoos. Judging from photographs, however, Liu also looks gentle and friendly almost to the point of cuddliness, and with proper marketing could make a compelling exhibit.

Instead of a steady supply of bamboo to devour, keepers at the Toronto and Calgary zoos would have to provide him an Internet connection and a laptop. Crowds could then watch Liu as he peacefully composes essays building on his Charter 08 blueprint for the nonviolent introduction to China of democracy, freedom of opinion, and fair competition among political parties.

To those who recoil at the notion of keeping Liu in a cage, I point out that he should be used to it by now. China sentenced him to eleven years in prison on Dec. 25, 2009 for writing sentences like this one:

“When the ‘rise’ of a large dictatorial state that commands rapidly increasing economic strength meets with no effective deterrence from outside, but only an attitude of appeasement from the international mainstream, and if the Communists succeed in once again leading China down a disastrously mistaken historical road, the results will not only be another catastrophe for the Chinese people, but likely also a disaster for the spread of liberal democracy in the world.”

The loan of Liu might well be refused by the Chinese authorities. In that case, there’s always the simple solution used when Beijing kept him in prison rather than letting him travel to Oslo to accept his Nobel in 2010. A chair was left empty for him at the ceremony.

If they put an empty chair behind bars at the zoo in Toronto or Calgary, I would definitely take my daughter to see it.


About those pandas: a modest alternative proposal

  1. Well they didn’t ‘loan’ them to us. We’re renting them….for $1M bucks a year.

    Plus we create the habitat, and feed them…and considering they only eat bamboo…that’s not cheap either.

    • I would be willing to “rent” Liu instead.

      • Well since we didn’t make any suggestions much less lecture the US when Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and ‘renderings’ were going on….I’d suggest we mind our own business.

  2.  Although both are unlikely, Harper would be more likely to take place in a ceremonial beating of Xiaobo then China to allow him to live here. 

    And even if he were to (reluctantly) aid in the beating, Harper would still admonish Chinese human rights abuses the next day. 

  3. A modest proposal indeed.

  4. Why do you hate our troops JGs?…and our oil/tar sands, and our pipelines…just what do you have against prosperity? You’ll be saying you accept GW as a fact next!

  5. When it comes to food for thought, my plate is always overflowing at John Geddes table.  Thanks for this; when I read the sentence of Liu’s that you selected, I had chills.  Terrific piece.

  6. Yup. Well said.

  7. What others said…  great piece.

    Only $1 million a year? That’s probably just the retainer. There may be a Made-In-China bamboo-shoot clause that will be an integral part of the upcoming China-Canada Free Trade Agreement. It’ll be like that F-35 program.

    We sell them our tar sands, they sell us their milk products. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Every one is a winner under Stephen Harper.


    • The author needs to write something he has true knowledge. Bottom line: China didn’t offer us the two pandas, we requested that! Just as Harper wanted to visit China, so they sent invitation.   
      Have you seen how normal Chinese people live? Why some Canadians love to live/work there?

  9. We requested it, after years of various efforts, we got the “deal”. We should celebrate the success! Media should promote friendship and not conflict among peoples. Canadians are seen as friendly and kind peoples, we should keep our good reputation. This world needs more friendship. Let’s enjoy the lovely pandas! 

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