A boost for diplomacy

The panda loan from China is more than just a visit by two cuddly animals - its significance goes beyond that as far as diplomatic and economic relations are concerned.

Public excitement has risen since Monday's announcement that Malaysia will host a pair of giant panda cubs from China for 10 years.

It's a big deal.

You cannot put a value to this because the Chinese Government does not simply send off their pandas to zoos around the world.

The universally loved pandas are regarded as national treasures and certainly deserve to be given the royal treatment.

On Friday, an agreement was signed by the China Wildlife Conservation Association and Malaysia's Wildlife and National Parks Department.

It is certainly a feather in the cap because the panda loan request was made by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao during his visit to Nanning in April.

Besides Malaysia, only eight other countries have reportedly been given the honour of hosting these giant pandas, including Thailand and Singapore. In the case of Malaysia, the loan is to mark our 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties with China.

Singapore's panda pair of Kai Kai and Jia Jia are due to arrive in September, about six months later than the originally planned date.

Their new home is River Safari in Mandai, which is slated to be open by the year's end.

It has been reported that the pandas will be placed in a 1,500 sq metre enclosure that will cost Singapore S$8.5mil (RM20.9mil).

The enclosure, which includes an outdoor area, a walkway that allows visitors to view the pandas up close and an air-conditioned exhibit area, will be ready by the end of this month.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) chairman Claire Chiang was quoted as saying that the environment had to be at its best when the pandas arrived.

"The pandas are a precious gift from the state, so we are exercising the highest level of prudence and a heightened sense of responsibility," she said.

When the panda loan to Singapore was first announced, a television crew was sent to Sichuan Province for a sneak preview of the pandas at the Bifengxia base.

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