• Kyodo

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China and Japan are expected to reach a broad agreement on panda leasing during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Beijing next week, bilateral sources said Friday.

The agreement would come amid a marked improvement in Sino-Japanese relations. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing and enactment of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two nations.

Beijing and Tokyo are likely to finalize the lease agreement during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s possible trip to Japan in June next year, the sources said. Zoos in Sendai and Kobe have been floated as candidates to receive a panda.

Abe is scheduled to visit Beijing for three days from next Thursday and hold talks with Xi.

China first gave a pair of giant pandas to Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo as part of its “panda diplomacy” in 1972, in commemoration of the normalization of bilateral ties.

In December 2011, when then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda visited Beijing, China expressed willingness to lease more giant pandas to Japan. However, as relations between the two countries sharply deteriorated amid a territorial row over the Senkaku Islands, an agreement on the matter was shelved.

The dispute over the islands in the East China Sea particularly intensified after Noda decided to bring them under state control in September 2012.

Noda’s move came months after the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, then led by hawkish Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, attempted to purchase the disputed islets.

The group of uninhabited islets, called Diaoyu in China, is controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing.

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