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In a new round of 'panda diplomacy,' China sends giant bears to the U.S. after two decades

For the first time in more than two decades, giant pandas are en route from China to a San Diego zoo in the U.S. — a sign that Beijing is resuming its so-called "panda diplomacy" efforts as relations with the West thaw.

Four-year-old Yun Chuan, a male panda, and Xin Bao, a female panda who's turning four in July, departed from Bifengxia Giant Panda Base, in China's Sichuan province on Wednesday.

The pair will reside at the San Diego Zoo for the next 10 years, according to a press release from the zoo.

San Diego mayor Todd Gloria visited the Chinese facility on Wednesday to celebrate the pandas' departure before welcoming them to his city. Delegates from both countries were in attendance as well.

"I'm honored to have been invited to join in the farewell ceremonies in China for Yun Chuan and Xin Bao," the mayor said on X. "This is a historic conservation partnership that will help protect these magnificent creatures and their habitat."

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance President and CEO Paul Baribault said the farewell ceremony "celebrates their journey and underscores a collaboration between the United States and China on vital conservation efforts."

The pandas were accompanied by caretakers and veterinarians from both China and the U.S., including Americans who visited China earlier and "got to know the pandas well," Huang Shan, a giant panda caretaker at the Ya'an facility told NBC News.

The Chinese team will spend about three months in San Diego to help the pandas settle in, state media China Daily said.

The bears will take time to acclimatize and won't be allowed to meet the public immediately, the zoo highlighted.

The San Diego Zoo was the first in the U.S. to have a cooperative panda conservation program, which aims to improve