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SAN FRANCISCO — Panda Watch is back on.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told US business leaders late Wednesday that he plans to dispatch additional pandas to American zoos — just a week after reclaiming a trio of the lovable bears from the nation’s capital by refusing to extend a loan agreement.
“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,” Xi said at the dinner hosted by the National Committee on US-China Relations and the US-China Business Council.
“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,” Xi added.
The so-called Chinese “president for life,” who began a third five-year term in March, said that he heard that the San Diego Zoo and its guests “very much look forward to welcoming pandas back.”
Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and cub Xiao Qi Ji returned to China on Nov. 8 after failed negotiations to extend their stay at Washington’s National Zoo.
San Diego and Memphis previously surrendered their pandas — leaving just four in Atlanta.
The Georgia pandas are scheduled to also return to China next year, potentially ending the “panda diplomacy” of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, who in 1972 dispatched the iconic animals during the thaw in US-China relations under President Richard Nixon.
Wednesday’s $2,000-per-guest dinner coincided with the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
For $40,000, executives could buy a spot at the Communist leader’s table.
Guests included Apple CEO Tim Cook, Boeing CEO Stanley Deal, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink and Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day, according to a dinner program.
Xi spoke after about four hours of talks with President Biden at a historic mansion south of San Francisco.
At an ensuing solo press conference, Biden called Xi a “dictator” despite Chinese officials expressing outrage after the US president made the same remark behind closed doors at a June fundraiser.
The Xi-Biden summit concluded with an agreement to resume military-to-military communications to avoid unintended incidents following Beijing’s suspension of such contact last year in protest of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
Biden said that Xi also agreed to restrict the export of fentanyl and fentanyl precursors, which have caused a surge in US drug overdose deaths, with roughly 200,000 Americans dying from the potent synthetic opioid since Biden took office.
China’s decision to reclaim pandas followed tensions with Washington stemming from former President Donald Trump’s tariffs-driven trade war and the subsequent COVID-19 pandemic, which some US agencies assess began with a leak from a Chinese lab doing risky research before killing more than 1.1 million Americans.