National

In a sign of warmer Japan-China ties, Abe and Xi expected to sign panda research pact at G20

Kyodo

Japan and China plan to cooperate on breeding research for giant pandas by signing a memorandum later this month when their leaders meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, diplomatic sources said Wednesday.

The signing is intended to showcase the continuing thaw in bilateral relations that have been frayed over territorial and historical issues and paves the way for China’s future lease of another giant panda at the request of Japan, they said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to make his first visit to Japan since he came to power in 2013 and a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is being arranged on the fringes of the June 28-29 G20 summit.

Both governments are weighing the possibility of the two leaders attending a ceremony where the memorandum is likely to be signed, according to the sources.

The document will state that Japan’s Foreign Ministry and Environment Ministry and China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration will cooperate over giant panda breeding. It will also enable the two countries to jointly cope with diseases and other breeding problems faced by giant pandas, including those already leased to Japan.

Giant pandas from China are seen as symbols of bilateral friendship. There are now 10 giant pandas in Japan — including leased animals and their offspring. Three of them reside at the Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo, six live at Adventure World in Wakayama Prefecture and one is a resident of Kobe Oji Zoo in Hyogo Prefecture.

Most recently, the loan period for giant panda cub Xiang Xiang at Ueno Zoo was extended until the end of next year. Beijing has ownership of the cub, born in 2017 at the zoo, and the animal was originally due to be returned to China this month.

The envisioned agreement “will add impetus to efforts to secure the lease of another giant panda,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

Candidate zoos for a new giant panda have already been discussed and they include facilities in Miyagi and Hyogo prefectures.

The first giant pandas came to Ueno zoo in 1972 to commemorate the normalization of bilateral ties. In 2011, China expressed a willingness to lease more giant pandas to Japan but it did not materialize as ties worsened, particularly due to a territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda brought the islands, which China claims and calls the Diaoyus, under state control in September 2012.

But bilateral relations have been improving in recent months while Beijing is locked in a trade war with Washington. When Abe visited Beijing in October, he agreed with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to move forward talks to realize another giant panda lease to Japan.