Two giant pandas are being sent to San Diego Zoo from China

Panda diplomacy is back. 

Two giant pandas are headed to the San Diego Zoo on loan from China as a gesture of diplomatic goodwill towards the United States.

In a statement from San Diego Zoo officials obtained by The Associated Press, all permits and other requirements have been approved. 

The two bears are expected to arrive by the summer's end. 

Why are pandas coming back to San Diego? 

In November 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping said his nation would send new pandas to the U.S. as motion to strengthen diplomatic ties between the two countries. 

"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 last year during a dinner speech with business leaders.

READ MORE: Chinese president Xi signals more pandas will be coming to the United States

Fears over the future of so-called panda diplomacy escalated last year when the zoos in Washington, D.C., and Memphis, Tennessee, returned their pandas to China, leaving only four pandas in the United States, all at the zoo in Atlanta. That loan agreement expires later this year.

But in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping raised hopes his country would start sending pandas to the U.S. again after he and President Joe Biden convened in Northern California for their first face-to-face meeting in a year and pledged to try to reduce tensions.

Who are the pandas?

China is considering a pair that includes a female descendent of Bai Yun and Gao Gao, two of the zoo's former residents, said Owen, an expert in panda behavior who has worked in San Diego and China.


Giant panda Bai Yun is seen at China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Panda Dujiangyan Base after years in U.S. on May 16, 2019 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province of China.

Bai Yun, who was born in captivity in China, lived at the zoo for more than 20 years and gave birth to six cubs there. She and her son were the zoo's last pandas and returned to China in 2019.

Gao Gao was born in the wild in China and lived at the San Diego Zoo from 2003 to 2018 before being sent back.

Will other zoos get pandas? 

"We're very excited and hopeful," said Megan Owen of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and vice president of Wildlife Conservation Science. "They've expressed a tremendous amount of enthusiasm to re-initiate panda cooperation starting with the San Diego Zoo."

According to the China Wildlife Conservation Association, it is currently in talks with zoos in Madrid, Spain, Washington, D.C., and Vienna to solidify a partnership that will further research into the animals. 

The partnership will include research on disease prevention and habitat protection and contribute to China’s national panda park construction, the organization said.

"We look forward to further expanding the research outcomes on the conservation of endangered species such as giant pandas, and promoting mutual understanding and friendship among peoples through the new round of international cooperation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said in Beijing.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.