Japan panda cub meets media before public debut

TOKYO (Reuters) - The wife of China’s ambassador to Japan and the governor of Tokyo turned out on Monday to help mark this week’s public debut of Japan’s popular panda cub, who turned six-months-old this month.

The healthy female cub was born in June, five years after her mother, Shin Shin, lost another cub within days of its birth. It has been nearly three decades since a baby panda at the capital’s Ueno Zoo has survived this long.

Wang Wan, the wife of Chinese ambassador Cheng Yonghua, joined Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike at the media event one day before the general public can view the panda from Tuesday.

Sino-Japanese ties are often strained by the bitter legacy of World War Two and regional rivalry, but panda diplomacy sometimes offers a touch of friendship to the relationship.

“This year marks the 45th anniversary of the normalisation of ties between China and Japan. I think the birth of Shan Shan - pronounced Xiang Xiang in Chinese - is truly auspicious,” Wang said.

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The panda toddler, small enough at birth to fit in the palm of a hand, now has typical panda markings and weighs around 12 kilograms. On Monday, media saw her munching bamboo, strolling and climbing - including perching precariously on a tree stump.

The panda toddler’s name, written with the Chinese character for fragrant, was chosen from more than 322,000 suggestions submitted by the public.

Shin Shin and her partner, Ri Ri, arrived from China in February 2011 and went on view soon after the following month’s devastating earthquake, offering a scrap of good news for an anguished nation.

A male cub born in 2012 was the first in 24 years at the Ueno Zoo, but six days after its birth, it was found lying motionless on its mother’s belly and efforts to revive it failed.

(This story has been refiled to clarify that media debut was before public viewing)

Reporting by Megumi Lim and Teppei Kasai; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Michael Perry