BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed on Wednesday (Jul 5) to make China’s new “special envoys” feel welcome in Berlin, as she unveiled two eagerly awaited giant pandas at the German capital’s zoo alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I think that this event today is a symbol of the relationship between our two countries,” said Merkel at the ceremony to introduce Meng Meng and Jiao Qing to the public.

One of two Chinese pandas eats bamboo in their compound at the Zoologischer Garten zoo in Berlin. (AFP/AXEL SCHMIDT)

“Everything will be done to make sure that they feel comfortable here” in their new home, she said.

“Many friends of the zoo have been gripped by panda fever” since it was confirmed that China would send the rare black and white bears to Berlin, she noted.

Famed for its “panda diplomacy”, China has dispatched its national treasure to only about a dozen countries as a symbol of close relations.

Export giants Germany and China have nurtured increasingly close economic ties, and over the last year the have also taken on the leading role in championing free trade as Donald Trump shifts the US away from market liberalisation with his “America First” push.

China has previously given three pandas to Germany, but the last one, 34-year-old Bao Bao, died in Berlin in 2012, having become the oldest male panda in the world.

The zoo will pay US$15 million (€13.4 million) for a 15-year contract to host the pair, with most of the money going towards a conservation and breeding research programme in China.

Xi noted that the last three pandas who lived in Berlin’s main zoo “gave the German people a lot of joy and left happy memories.”

“I hope that this new pair of pandas will not only quickly settle in, but also produce a child to bring Berliners good fortune and happiness,” he said.

But the Chinese leader also underlined the main task conferred on the two cuddly bears: “I hope that Meng Meng and Jiao Qing can bring the two countries closer, and become the new ambassadors of the friendship between the two people.”



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