There are thousands of religions across the world and countless more personal creeds. 195 different countries dispense legal codes and many more nations and stateless peoples govern their own affairs according to their non-governmental customs and norms. Despite this, there are certain moral truths evident to all men. One truth stands out amongst them all as if it were inscribed on the hearts and minds of all men and preserved and passed down on stone tablets handed to Adam by God prior to the fall of man. What is this moral truth? Well, it is absurd to even ask that question. You should already know the answer: Thou shalt have pandas.
How many pandas should each country own? That’s unclear, but what is clear is that pandas are out there, and we must have them. Taking this into consideration, it is truly an act of injustice that China is hogging all of the pandas for themselves. Such an action is truly despicable and warrants, no, necessitates government action.
Joking aside, this is what Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) suggests in response to China reclaiming pandas from American zoos, stating, “I mean, they’re taking back our pandas. You know, we should take back all their farmland.” Excellent point, senator. Truly inspiring. In response to China reclaiming animals the United States certainly does not have a right to, Fetterman is suggesting seizing Chinese-owned farmland stateside. The absurdity of this position should be evident.
Not only is this a disproportionate response, the effect of doing so on foreign affairs would be either negligible or negative. As noted in an article published by the Libertarian Institute earlier this year, little farmland in the U.S. is owned by the Chinese—less than one percent to be exact—and as noted by that article and this article by Dr. Walter Block, seizing land may only heighten tensions rather than ameliorate them.
The United States is acting as if they have an immutable right to own these pandas. However, this is baseless. The pandas come from the Chinese government; therefore, the Chinese taxpayer has a more proximate claim to the pandas than any zoo in the U.S. Using government aggression to coerce the pandas back into the hands of American zoos is totally unjustifiable.
It is true that the pandas come from a decades-long loan agreement between the Chinese and U.S. governments, and the pandas currently being reclaimed by the Chinese government are not necessarily the same pandas that were loaned many years ago. But per the loan agreement, China has claim to any offspring of the pandas and they were still acting on behalf of the Chinese people when striking up the agreement. The Chinese people, therefore, maintain their greater claim.
The U.S. may not be totally innocent either. Le Le, a 24-year-old giant panda, abruptly died at the Memphis Zoo in February 2023. While the Chinese found no evident neglect of the animal, the Chinese public was still outraged, claiming that Le Le had been neglected, citing pictures of the panda looking gaunt and with patchy fur. The Chinese public is not totally without cause to expect neglect. Le Le was set to be returned to China only months before her death. Given that the end was near for Memphis’ panda ownership, the zoo would have been incentivized to care less for it, knowing that their investment would be fruitless in the coming months.
Unfortunately, we may never know the complete truth about what happened, but the permanent return of the pandas is a perfectly reasonable response to such an untimely death of a panda that was expected to live longer (~30 years).
What other reasons are given to justify the U.S. taking action to keep Chinese pandas?
There are emotional appeals throughout this article in Fortune. The article tells of panda-philes who are taking pilgrimages to zoos before the pandas are taken away. It even noted that some had “temper tantrum[s]” upon the breaking news of the pandas’ departure. Unfortunately for these panda fanatics, there is no natural right to see pandas in person or have them in your country.
Diplomatic or foreign affairs concerns are also raised in the Fortune article, but ultimately, if everyone recognizes that the pandas are not theirs to keep, the issue goes away. The panda lovers can love the pandas from across the Pacific, or travel to China, but under no circumstance should the U.S. government heighten tensions over such a trivial issue.
The fact that this is just one issue among many in the various points of tensions between the United States and China makes it likely this whole issue is being inflated by the media to jump on the sinophobia of the American public, and politicians are quick to oblige because it provides justification for government intervention.
So, no, there is no right to pandas and the government should cease all aggression aimed at keeping them instead of making threats to seize Chinese-owned farmland, an action which is unjustifiable. The only beneficiaries of such actions are panda-philes and bureaucrats at government-run zoos. Benefiting them at the expense of heating up tensions is, dare I say, not worth it.