(Bloomberg) -- China said it will renew its “Panda Diplomacy” efforts with the US and other nations after spending recent years bringing the bears it loans to foreign zoos back home. 

China’s wildlife agency reached an agreement with the San Diego Zoo in California and the Madrid zoo in Spain on “a new round of international cooperation on panda conservation,” according to a statement on the official WeChat account of the Chinese Embassy in the US.

The first pair of pandas — a male and a female — could arrive in San Diego by late summer, officials at the zoo told the Associated Press. China is also discussing renewing its cooperation with Washington, D.C.’s National Zoo and Austria’s Schönbrunn Zoo, according to the embassy. 

Restoring its decades-old panda diplomacy marks China’s latest effort to improve relations with the West, especially the US. Hopes that the iconic animals — which only live in the wild in China — might be sent back to the US rose after US President Joe Biden met Chinese leader Xi Jinping last November in California. 

Read More: All Pandas in American Zoos Are Being Taken Back by China 

Xi declared at the time that China was “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 friendly ties between our peoples.” But it wasn’t immediately clear when that process would get underway or whether it would come in time to stop the departure of the few bears remaining in the US. 

Officials at Washington’s National Zoo last year returned their three giant pandas — Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji — when the loan contracts with China weren’t renewed. That was the first time the facility — which had completed a $50 million overhaul of the Asia Trail enclosure where the pandas lived — was left without a single panda in decades. 

The Washington zoo originally received a pair of pandas as a gift from Beijing following President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China, a landmark event helping normalize relations between the countries.

San Diego’s last pandas returned to China in 2018 and 2019 after their loan agreements expired. Zoo Atlanta is now the only place in the US that keeps pandas, but those, too, are scheduled to go home this year.

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