China threatens to take back Schönbrunn pandas

The Chinese government has threatened to take Schönbrunn’s panda’s away if the Austrian government meets the Dalai Lama again.

The foreign minister and deputy president Michael Spindelegger (ÖVP) was presented with a scarf by the Dalai Lama in Vienna’s Stadthalle last year and the chancellor Werner Faymann met the spiritual leader of Tibet for dinner in Do & CO.

But according to reports in the Austrian paper “Die Presse”, 12 months on and the anger of China’s communist party has not died down, with the Chinese ambassador to Vienna still putting pressure on officials to break relations.

In official terms, the relationship between Austria and China is praised but between the lines, it is understood that a visit by the Dalai Lama would be a strain on the bilateral relationship. The latest report now suggests that Beijing has made this clear by threatening to take away all pandas at the Schönbrunn Zoo.

The 10-year hire agreement for the panda-couple officially came to an end in March this year but zoo officials announced even before Christmas that Yang Yang and Long Hui would be allowed to stay another 10 years in the Viennese zoo, as the managers had come to an agreement with the “China Wildlife Conservation Association”.

Eveline Dungl, who is responsible for the pandas at the zoo, said: “We signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the duration of the transitional period. There is obviously a political background that needs to be cleared too.”

Chinese officials only want to sign the contract when there is return to a “good bilateral atmosphere”, as formulated by a diplomat.

The situation is thought to have relaxed slightly, with Austrian and Chinese diplomats getting nearer to finding a solution. However, neither party wishes to disclose what the terms of a possible compromise would look like.