Pampered pandas flown into Scotland

Sun Dec 4, 2011 10:14pm EST
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By Max Duncan

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - A pair of pampered giant pandas arrived in Scotland Sunday to a reception of cheering and flag-waving crowds while British officials said the 10-year loan of the bears by China strengthened ties between the two countries.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang -- whose names in English are Sweetie and Sunshine -- arrived at Edinburgh airport after flying in from Chengdu, Sichuan province, and were later greeted at Edinburgh zoo by around 450 people waving Chinese and Scottish flags.

"Scotland's relationship with China is hugely important and the pandas represent a fantastic opportunity to deepen our business, cultural and diplomatic ties," said Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Since the 1950s, China has given away pandas as gestures of goodwill in what has come to be known as "panda diplomacy."

Modern China gave its first pair of giant pandas to Britain in 1974.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "I know that a huge amount of work has gone into securing their loan and they will be a great showcase for UK-China links in science and research."

Afforded a reception worthy of a state visit, the bears' journey on a private plane was no less extravagant, with four crew members, two attendants, one veterinarian and a cargo handler among the retinue.

Ahead of the flight, veterinarian Tang Chunxiang said he was worried about the pandas' nerves and fear of flying.   Continued...

<p>Tian Tian, a female giant panda looks out of her container as it is unloaded off an aircraft at Edinburgh airport in Scotland December 4, 2011. REUTERS/David Moir</p>