Continuing a long tradition in Chinese diplomacy, President Xi Jinping has offered a pair of pandas to South Korea.
President Park Geun-hye was visibly delighted. “This pair of pandas, along with a sacred ibis that came last year, will be loved by Koreans as a symbol of the two countries’ friendship,” Park said after the two leaders’ summit in Seoul on Thursday.
South Korea first received a pair of pandas from Beijing in 1994 to mark the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two nations two years earlier. But Seoul had to return the pandas in 1998 because the government could not afford the costly rental and maintenance fees amid the Asian financial crisis.
So the new pandas are certainly most welcome, although they will not arrive until after one or two years because of the complicated export and customs procedures, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Pandas may have brought cheer to South Koreans, but not to some people in the North. Reports say North Korean soldiers have used a picture of a panda for target practice, apparently to convey Pyongyang’s resentment over warming ties between Beijing and Seoul.
China’s use of pandas as a tool of diplomacy could be traced back to the Tang Dynasty, when Empress Wu Zetian (625–705) sent a pair of pandas to the Japanese emperor. With the current tensions between the two countries over a territorial dispute, however, it’s highly unlikely that Tokyo will receive another pair from Beijing anytime soon.
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