n. An analyst or academic who believes that China poses no military threat, particularly to the United States.
The very name of Bill Gertz's new book ['The China Threat'] is an affront to the panda-huggers in our nation's capital. They deny the existence of a threat from China, suggesting that this view is a mindless holdover from the reflexive paranoia of the Cold War.
—Steven W. Mosher, “The new cold war,” The Washington Times, January 02, 2001
2000 (earliest)
Fisher…describes himself as a member of the 'Blue Team' — a loose alliance of members of Congress, congressional staff, think tank fellows, Republican political operatives, conservative journalists, lobbyists for Taiwan, former intelligence officers and a handful of academics, all united in the view that a rising China poses great risks to America's vital interests. … Blue Team allies also speak derisively of 'panda-huggers' and 'the Relationship Police,' referring to those who seek a close and cooperative U.S. relationship with Beijing.
—Robert G. Kaiser, “'Blue Team' Draws a Hard Line on Beijing,” The Washington Post, February 22, 2000
This phrase is based on tree-hugger, "a person who cares deeply about trees in particular, or the environment in general." The idea behind this usually derogatory term is that such a person would cling to a tree to prevent its destruction. In fact, this is exactly how the term originated. Back in 1973, villagers from the state of Uttar Pradesh in India protested the destruction of Himalayan forests by embracing trees to prevent them from being felled. Inspired by this, tree-hugger entered the language around 1977. Panda-hugger is much newer, with the earliest citation I could find dating only to February, 2000.
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