Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo, where a pair of giant pandas have arrived from China, is already hoping for a newborn by summer.

Zoo manager Teruyuki Komiya did not hide his excitement when Bili, a 5-year-old male, and Xiannu, a 5-year-old female, arrived in a truck escorted by police cars late Monday.

“We have heard people miss pandas. We would like to have panda cubs born in Ueno,” Komiya said as some 200 journalists from 70 media organizations from Japan, China and other countries gathered for the pandas’ arrival.

The zoo in Taito Ward has not had any pandas since Ling-Ling died in April 2008.

The pair are primed to reproduce, and Xiannu may get pregnant as early as March, a hopeful Komiya said. If that happens, a cub will be born as early as June, he said.

Pregnancy “is a reasonable expectation considering their age,” Komiya said.

Veterinarian Tatsuko Hara, who accompanied the pandas from the Ya’an giant panda conservation center in central China, said Bili was nervous and crying, but Xiannu has a more laid-back personality and was calm.

Ueno Zoo will give Japanese names to the pandas, which feed on bamboo, corn and carrots, by the time they make their public debut in late March. It has received 40,000 suggestions for the new names, Komiya said.

The pandas were put into their pens at the zoo around 11:40 p.m. after a 40-hour journey by air and truck.

Of the 502 kinds of animals at the zoo, pandas are easily the most popular. Stuffed pandas and other panda merchandise are top-selling souvenirs.

The pandas are one of the few bright spots in Japan’s relations with China, which have seriously deteriorated since the run-in last year between a Chinese trawler and patrol vessels near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

“I hope (leasing the pandas) will trigger closer bilateral relations between Japan and China,” Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Katsuya Okada said at a news conference Monday. “Animals can help countries overcome difficult international problems.”

But animal diplomacy doesn’t come cheap.

According to the contract signed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and China’s wild animal conservation authorities last July, the city must pay $950,000 (about ¥79 million) annually for 10 years.

This is the first time the metropolitan government has paid China for pandas for Ueno Zoo. Beginning in 1972, when Japan and China normalized diplomatic ties, China gave the zoo a total of five pandas, metropolitan official Toshiki Matsuyama said.

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