China could soon send giant pandas to the United States for the first time in years, reigniting “panda diplomacy” between the two countries.

The China Wildlife Conservation Association. has reached agreements with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and Spain’s Madrid Zoo for the conservation of giant pandas, according to Xinhua, China’s news agency.

Megan Owen, vice president of wildlife conservation science at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, confirmed the agreement between the Chinese agency and the zoo in a news release.

“We are honored by the potential opportunity to continue our collaborative conservation efforts to secure the future of giant pandas,” Owen said.

Owen told the Associated Press that the two pandas, a female and a male, could arrive in late summer. One of the female pandas considered a descendant of Bai Yun and Gao Gao, who used to live at the San Diego Zoo. The zoo has not housed giant pandas since 2019.

China is also negotiating with the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., to “develop a future giant panda program,” according to Brandie Smith, director of the National Zoo and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

“It has always been our intention and hope to have giant pandas at the zoo in the future and to continue our research here and our conservation work in China,” Smith said in a statement.

China has been lending pandas to the United States for more than five decades as a sign of goodwill between the countries, but questions about the future of the loans grew after several pandas were returned to China in recent years.

The San Diego Zoo returned its last giant pandas, Bai Yun, and her son, Xiao Liwu, to China in 2019, and the Memphis Zoo returned its female panda in April.

Last November, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo returned two adult pandas, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, and their cub, Xiao Qi Ji, according to a news release.

Chinese President Xi Jinping hinted late last year that China might send new pandas to the United States, calling them “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American people.”

“We are willing to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation and do our best to meet the wishes of Californians so as to deepen friendly ties between our two peoples,” Xi said at the time.

Beijing first loaned two pandas to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington in 1972. Beijing began loaning pandas to other American zoos, with proceeds going to conservation programs.

By Sam