Sharing the care of such precious animals strengthens the bonds that China has with its ‘inner circle’ of countries.
HERE are a few fun facts about giant pandas: While 99% of their diet is assorted bamboos, they occasionally feed on farm crops like corn stalks and wheat, wild fruits like kiwi and loquat, and herbs like Chinese angelica and celery.
According to the book 201 Questions about Giant Pandas, they are even known to eat charcoal and lick or bite metal-ware in the village, earning them the nickname of “iron-eating beast”.
Pandas may appear clumsy, but they can wade through water and swim.
Just like us, they fear injections and pills. The cuddly animals will actually try to escape whenever they see doctors in white robes entering their enclosures with injection needles.
In order to appear unsuspicious, vets have to don casual clothes or distract them with food.
Next week, the much-awaited giant pandas that will be loaned to Malaysia, Feng Yi and Fu Wa, are likely to arrive in Kuala Lumpur ahead of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s visit to China.
They are the latest pair to leave Sichuan in China, after Xing Hui and Hao Hao, which departed for Belgium’s Pairi Daiza zoo in February.
Malaysia will be the ninth country to receive the giant pandas from the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda in Sichuan.
Other countries involved in this research-based exchange and co-operation include England, Austria, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, Japan and the United States.
Overall, 43 giant pandas live in 17 zoos across 12 countries.
It was said that Empress Wu Zetian executed the very first panda diplomacy by presenting two pandas to the Japan emperor in 685 AD.
Everywhere they go, the pandas become natural crowd-pullers, not just because of their rarity but also their irresistibly adorable behaviour.
The national treasures of China shoulder an important diplomatic mission when they embark on their overseas voyage.
On a larger scale, they are the symbol of friendship between China and the receiving country.
The loans are also often interpreted as an exchange for trade and investment deals.
An Oxford University study in September last year pointed out that the panda loan is a “seal of approval” for important trade deals and intentions for a long and prosperous working relationship.
It said countries involved in the recent panda transactions were China’s close Asian neighbours, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, which have signed free-trade agreements with China.
It noted that the Chinese government is now in the third phase of its panda diplomacy.
“Phase 1 during the Mao era (in the 1960s and 1970s) took the form of China gifting pandas to build strategic friendships.
“Phase 2 followed Deng Xiaoping’s rise to power in 1978 when gifts became gift loans involving a capitalist lease model based on financial transactions.
“In the emerging phase 3, panda loans are associated with nations supplying China with valuable resources and technology and symbolise China’s willingness to build ‘guanxi’ – namely, deep trade relationships characterised by trust, reciprocity, loyalty and longevity,” the study’s abstract read.
The study’s lead author Dr Kathleen Buckingham said sharing the care of such a precious animal strengthens the bonds that China has with its “inner circle” of countries.
“Countries that can successfully breed pandas will demonstrate their technological strength,” she said.
Meanwhile, the recipient countries are likely to benefit from the presence of the giant pandas in terms of revenue for the zoos.
Besides entrance tickets, various panda-themed memorabilia are selling like hot cakes.
The Guardian reported in May last year that the panda duo, Tian Tian (Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine), have helped boost Edinburgh Zoo’s income and visitor numbers to record levels.
It quoted the zoo’s charitable owners, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, as saying that the zoo’s overall income increased by more than £5mil (RM27mil) to nearly £15mil (RM81mil) in 2012.
The number of visitors also shot up by 51% after the duo’s arrival in December 2011.
In 2011, the society reported a £1.2mil (RM6.5mil) deficit after taking out two bank loans to help cover its earlier losses, the report said. With the arrival of the giant pandas, its overall surplus was £2.4mil (RM13mil) last year.
The report added that the extra ticket and merchandising sales have “more than covered the heavy costs of keeping the pandas”.
Perhaps Zoo Negara would also be able to duplicate Edinburgh’s success and attract more local and foreign visitors to the establishment.
And zoo goers can hopefully learn more about protecting local wildlife as well.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
Excitement over pandas’ arrival
China’s ambassador to Malaysia, Huang Huikang, confirmed the pandas would arrive next week and said Beijing’s gesture is aimed at fostering better relations with Malaysia.
The two pandas will be on loan to Malaysia for 10 years and will be given new names, names that depict Malaysian identity..
Pandas are not a new phenomenon in China’s diplomacy. They have been used as a diplomatic tool in the past.
China sent its first panda named Ping-Ping as a gift to the Soviet Union in 1957. Two years later another panda An-An was sent to Moscow. North Korea received five pandas from China between 1965 and 1980.
Following US President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972, Beijing sent two pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing as a gift to Washington.
Beijing also gave two pandas LiLi and Yan-Yan to France to mark President Georges Pompidou’s visit to China in 1973.
Malaysians highly appreciate China’s goodwill and cooperation that will further enhance ties between the two countries.
Contributed by S. SUNDARESON Petaling Jaya