Panda diplomacy reflects warmer China-Canada ties

Sat Feb 11, 2012 6:10am EST
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CHONGQING, China (Reuters) - Canada set the seal on improving ties with China on Saturday by agreeing to a 10-year loan for two giant pandas, traditionally an indication of official approval from Beijing.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper witnessed the signing ceremony on the last day of a visit designed to sell Canadian oil and other resources to China. The pandas are the first to travel to Canada in more than two decades.

"The pandas' visit to Canada represents an important step forward in the blossoming relationship between our two peoples," he told a formal ceremony at Chongqing Zoo.

The two pandas - the male Er Shun, "Double Smoothness," and female Ji Li, "Successful and Pretty," - are expected to arrive in Canada early next year. They will split their 10-year sojourn between zoos in Calgary in western Canada and Toronto in the east.

China has previously agreed to long-term panda loans with Australia, Austria, Japan, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Ed Lane)

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks at a panda being held by his wife Laureen at a zoo in Chongqing February 11, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>