PETALING JAYA: The two giant pandas loaned to Malaysia marked closer diplomatic relations with China, a practice which started centuries ago.
It was reported that â€œpanda diplomacyâ€ was traced back to the seventh century when Chinese Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty gave a pair of pandas to a Japanese emperor as a gesture of goodwill.
In 1941, China gave a panda to the Bronx Zoo as a gesture of thanks to the United States for its help during World War II.
In the 1950s, the furry creatures were given as gifts to Communist allies such as North Korea and the Soviet Union.
Two months after US President Richard Nixon made a landmark trip to China in 1972, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had presented two pandas â€“ Hsing-Hsing and Ling Ling to America.
However some nations have been sceptical of such diplomacy.
Taiwan turned down Beijingâ€™s proposed panda loan for years because of suspicions that the animals would be â€œa propaganda toolâ€ for China. It was only in 2008 that Taiwan finally accepted two pandas â€“ Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan. To date, China has only had â€œpanda diplomacyâ€ with 14 countries.
The loans are a symbol of friendship between China and the receiving country and are also often interpreted as an exchange for trade and investment deals.
Malaysiaâ€™s very own giant pandas given on loan â€“ Liang Liang and Xing Xing, arrived on May 21 last year to celebrate 40 years of diplomatic ties between both nations.
The pair from Chengdu, China, was loaned via the Giant Panda International Conservation Cooperation Agreement Programme.
The agreement on the programme between Malaysia and China was signed in 2012, which gives Malaysia an opportunity to conduct panda-related conservation research, besides developing local expertise on pandas over a 10-year period.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had requested for the panda loan during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao in Nanning.
Malaysia was the first Asean country to initiate bilateral ties with China when Najibâ€™s father, then prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein visited China in 1974.