Indonesia welcomes giant pandas on loan from China

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia welcomed a pair of giant pandas on loan from China on Thursday, a move officials said would boost friendship and cultural cooperation between the two countries.

The pandas, Cai Tao and Hu Chun from Sichuan province, will spend the next 10 years in a special enclosure in the Taman Safari zoo on the outskirts of Jakarta.

“The giant panda is the national treasure of China. They are the messengers of friendship, symbols of peace,” Sun Weide, China’s Charge d’Affaires in Indonesia, said at a ceremony.

China has been sending their black and white ambassadors abroad in a sign of goodwill since the 1950s as part of what is known as “panda diplomacy”.

Cai Tao and Hu Chun arrive at a time of generally good ties between Jakarta and Beijing, although there have been some strains in the relationship.

In July, Indonesia renamed the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea. China’s foreign ministry said the renaming was “meaningless” and called for countries to maintain peace in the region.

Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said joining China’s giant panda breeding loan program “shows that the international community, in this case China, is confident with the conservation management efforts of Indonesia.”

The pair of seven-year-old pandas are expected to go on public display in late October or early November.

Reporting by Angie Teo, editing by Darren Schuettler