San Francisco Mayor London Breed is heading to China next week to conduct some "panda diplomacy," or, at least, to ask again for some, and to promote tourism to SF.

Breed has been lobbying for at least several months for a giant panda to make a visit to the San Francisco Zoo, and she will head to China next week to plead her case further. Breed has an official visit planned from April 13 to 21, as the SF Standard first reported, with scheduled stops in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai.

The mayor said this trip was meant to build on "momentum" that began with the APEC summit in November, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited SF.

"I am honored to be invited to travel to China and meet with leaders in business, innovation and government, to cultivate economic opportunities and strengthen ties between San Francisco and cities across the region," Breed said in a statement.

The visit is not being paid for out of taxpayer funds, but rather out of the privately funded San Francisco Special Events Committee, a nonprofit which falls under SF Chief of Protocol Maryam Muduroglu.

Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said this week that China welcomes Breed's visit, and hopes it will "achieve positive results and further promote San Francisco's cooperation with China and China-US local exchanges."

"China has always supported and encouraged people from all walks of life in the two countries to have more exchanges and dialogue, constantly build consensus, enhance trust, eliminate interference, deepen cooperation, and bring more tangible benefits to the people of the two countries," Wang said.

Breed has made similar tourism-promoting trips to Europe, and she last visited China in an official capacity when she was a city supervisor. That may have been during an official visit that former Mayor Ed Lee made to the country in 2013.

Breed is reportedly scheduled to meet with mayors from Shanghai and Guangzhou, but it's unclear which other government officials she may be meeting.

"Recently, China and the US have maintained positive interactions, which is a very welcome trend," says Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, speaking to the Global Times. "The San Francisco mayor's visit shows that she believes that strengthening China-US economic and trade cooperation is beneficial to local development, and it also shows that China-US economic cooperation is win-win."

As for the pandas, President Xi already hinted that more "panda diplomacy" could be afoot, during remarks when he attended the APEC summit.

"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.

And Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reportedly told a Chinese audience in January that "preparations are ready for a giant panda return to California within the year."

ABC 7 subsequently reported that the zoos of San Diego and San Francisco are vying for that panda, but it's possible that a panda could make stops at both zoos on a mini-tour.

Relations between China and the US hit a particularly icy patch in 2023, what with that spy balloon incident and several years of Trump attempting to slow trade with the company. And China has responded to this chilliness by pulling pandas back that were on loan, so to speak, to zoos in Memphis, Washington D.C., and San Diego.

The last time the San Francisco Zoo saw a visit from two pandas was in 1984, when Yun Yun and Ying Xin stopped off here for three months on their way to an Olympics season visit to Los Angeles.

Previously: The San Francisco Zoo Might be Getting a Giant Panda, Everybody!

Photo: Stone Wang