Japan's PM to ask Beijing for two pandas

Updated: 2011-12-23 08:05

By Zhang Yunbi (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said on Thursday that he will ask Beijing to lease two pandas to Japan during his visit to China.

Noda, scheduled to visit China on Sunday and Monday, plans to hold separate talks with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

Tokyo hopes Beijing will lease the pandas to the Yagiyama Zoological Park in the city of Sendai, an area heavily stricken by the earthquake and tsunami last March, Japan's Fuji Television said on Thursday.

Noda held a meeting on Thursday morning at the prime minister's office with Sendai City's Vice-Mayor Yukimoto Ito, Japanese actress Tetsuko Kuroyanagi and singer Masahiko Kondo.

"The children there really want to see the pandas anyway," Kondo, a 47-year-old renowned Japanese singer who has been supporting reconstruction efforts in the disaster zones, told the prime minister.

In response, Noda said he will voice support and "inform Beijing of the panda proposal at the weekend".

Kuroyanagi and Kondo also presented Noda with the signatures of children who hope to see the pandas.

"We want (the pandas) to heal the pain that children experienced and serve as a light of hope for them," Ito, the vice-mayor, told reporters after the meeting, according to Kyodo News Agency.

Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic relations, and leasing pandas is seen as a symbolic event to mark the friendship between the two countries, Fuji said.

Sendai's Mayor Emiko Okuyama said in mid-October that she had talked with the Chinese ambassador to Japan about leasing pandas to the city-run Yagiyama Zoological Park, according to Japan's Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.

Sending pandas to Japan is a diplomatic way of boosting civil exchanges and building China's soft power, said Feng Zhaokui, a researcher with the Institute of Japanese Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

China gave a pair of pandas to Japan in 1972 to commemorate the normalization of bilateral relations.

In 2000, China leased a pair of pandas to another Japanese zoo following the 1995 earthquake that devastated the city of Kobe.

However, the related organizations in Japan should resort to necessary Chinese experts' help to guarantee the well-being of the pandas, Feng said.

In September 2010, Xingxing, a panda loaned to a zoo in Kobe, died at the age of 14 after veterinarians drugged it to collect sperm for artificial insemination, according to Xinhua.

Captain detained

Meanwhile, Japan's coast guard said on Wednesday that it had detained a captain of a Chinese boat accused of illegal fishing in Japanese territorial waters.

Beijing is confirming the details, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said on Thursday.

Liu said China hopes Japan can achieve an appropriate solution to the incident and ensure the lawful rights of Chinese sailors.

Japan detained a Chinese captain earlier on Tuesday under the same accusation.

Both China and Japan have shown prudence to maritime incidents recently, which stems partly from the enhanced bilateral communication on fishery emergency briefings, Feng said.

"Japan's response to the latest two cases of alleged illegal fishing showed its consideration to maintain a positive atmosphere for the coming year," Feng said.