Japan asks China for pandas

PTI Tokyo | Updated on March 12, 2018

In an effort to bring smiles on the faces of children in tsunami-affected Japan, the country’s government is in talks with China to lease giant pandas to a zoological park in Miyagi Prefecture, which was among the worst hit by the March 11 calamity.

Emiko Okuyama, Mayor of Sendai city, yesterday said that the government-run Yagiyama Zoological Park in the capital of Miyagi Prefecture has asked China about leasing giant pandas “to cheer up children“.

“I think children in disaster-hit areas would be cheered up,” said Okuyama, adding that she discussed the issue with Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua in September, at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo.

Cheng was quoted as saying that transferring the pandas could be difficult under the Washington Convention, which restricts trade in rare animals, but assured he would convey the request to Beijing.

On Monday, Cheng told reporters, while on a visit to the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture, that he would make efforts to secure the leasing of pandas to Sendai.

“My heart aches anew each time I visit the disaster-hit areas. Every time I think about the local people, I feel the need to bring those pandas here and spread joy to all,” the ambassador said.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Osamu Fujimura, said the central government would back the bid diplomatically if the zoo asks for its support.

“If realised, it would give children in disaster-hit areas dreams and hopes,” the top government spokesman said.

Japan and China will commemorate the 40th anniversary of normalisation of diplomatic ties next year. Bilateral relations, however, remain far from stable following a spat over maritime collisions last year, near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

China gave a pair of pandas to Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo as part of its “panda diplomacy” in 1972, in commemoration of the normalisation of bilateral relations.

There are currently 11 pandas in Japan, including two at Ueno Zoo. Their ownership is, however, still retained by the Chinese side.

Published on October 18, 2011

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