Why Washington Needs to 'Panda' to Beijing

TIME Notebook: If Chinese remain angry over embassy bombing, National Zoo might not get a replacement for its star attraction.

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With 28-year-old Hsing-Hsing suffering from a probably fatal kidney ailment and Ling-Ling dead, the Smithsonian's National Zoo is in discussions with China about acquiring another pair of giant pandas. Both the San Diego Zoo, which has a pair of pandas on loan, and Zoo Atlanta, which has been promised a pair, have pledged the going giant-panda price tag: $1 million a year. But the National Zoo, where admission is free, doesn't have such deep pockets. Its fund-raisers have pledged $2.5 million over the next 10 years, plus help in conducting a panda census in China and developing a satellite monitoring system.

A team of zoologists leaves this week for Beijing in hopes of finalizing the negotiations, which were complicated by the bombing of China's Belgrade embassy. Pandas are so precious to Chinese diplomacy that the premier must give his OK. Zoo officials estimate new pandas would each year bring an additional 400,000 visitors and $1.2 million in concession sales.