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Breed again asks Xi Jinping for pandas. This time, Chinese American leaders join her

A woman is speaking at a podium with "APEC 2023" in the background.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed sent a second letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping to ask for pandas. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The San Francisco Standard/POOL

San Francisco Mayor London Breed doesn’t want to give up—not only on her tough reelection campaign, but also on her quest to get pandas for the San Francisco Zoo from China.

Breed already asked Chinese President Xi Jinping for the rare, fuzzy animals in a letter three months ago. On Thursday, Breed sent another letter to Xi asking for giant pandas to make a new home in the city. This time, a wide range of local Chinese American leaders joined the push by co-signing Breed’s letter.

“[We] stand ready to welcome pandas to our San Francisco Zoo,” Breed said in the letter. “[The] exchange of Giant Pandas to zoos in California can be a great contributor to the establishment of a strong foundation for this friendship between our two countries.”

Sources close to the Mayor's Office also revealed that Breed is considering a trip to Shanghai to strengthen the sister city connections.

China announced last month that the San Diego Zoo will receive pandas—raising doubts about San Francisco’s chances to receive the rare animals, as Breed asked Xi during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last November and also formalized the request by sending a follow-up letter to Xi in December.

But there’s still hope.

In a letter obtained by The Standard, Xie Feng, the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., responded to Breed’s first letter saying Xi appreciates San Francisco’s commitment to the friendship and hinted that pandas could come “early.”

“Let’s keep in close contact in this regard,” Feng said in the letter dated Jan. 26, “and hopefully, we will see an early arrival of giant pandas in San Francisco.”

A giant panda walks through grass near wooden structures, looking toward the camera.
Giant panda Xiao Qi Ji is seen in his enclosure at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., in 2023. | Source: Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty Images

San Francisco has hosted pandas before, but never for a long term. In the ’80s, two pandas stopped by the San Francisco Zoo for three months, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors. That period remains the busiest period the zoo has ever experienced.

Dozens of Chinese American elected officials, city commissioners and community leaders signed Breed’s second letter, including City Administrator Carmen Chu and City Attorney David Chiu.

Tanya Peterson, president of San Francisco Zoo, told The Standard that she’s in close contact with the Chinese forestry administration, as experts from both countries are sorting out the zoological operations for the potential arrival of giant pandas. Panda experts from China came to San Francisco to evaluate the zoo facility last December, according to Breed.

China is reviving its famous “panda diplomacy” policy, through which it has lent pandas to foreign zoos over the past several decades.

If the pandas are confirmed to come, the city may start a massive fundraising effort to cover the rental fees and build a suitable habitat. That effect is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars.