Indonesia to get pandas from China

It is the 15th country to host and breed the bears under Beijing's 'panda diplomacy'

Indonesia is set to receive two giant pandas from China next week, a gesture now widely known as "panda diplomacy" and symbolising Beijing's close relations with the country receiving the bears.

An official from the Chinese embassy in Jakarta yesterday confirmed the pandas will arrive on Sept 28 and a joint press conference with the Indonesian government will be held.

This would make Indonesia the 15th country to host and help breed the giant pandas, which, although are no longer considered an endangered species, remain vulnerable to extinction due to climate change.

The furry ambassadors, regarded by the Chinese as national treasures, will arrive at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport on a Garuda Indonesia flight. They will be taken to Taman Safari, a zoo in Bogor, West Java, about two hours' drive from the capital Jakarta.

China has always set strict requirements for countries receiving the panda, said Mr Bambang Dahono Adji, biodiversity conservation director for Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Ministry. He told The Jakarta Post last Friday that the panda enclosure had to fulfil certain criteria, such as proper temperature, while the zoo must have adequate supply of bamboo to feed the bears - all of which Taman Safari has put in place.

"China has asked us to take care of the pandas and raise them properly until they can breed if possible," said Mr Bambang.

SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS

China has asked us to take care of the pandas and raise them properly until they can breed if possible.

MR BAMBANG DAHONO ADJI, the biodiversity conservation director for Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Ministry, on Indonesia being the 15th country to receive the bears from China.

Taman Safari is also gearing up for panda fans once the bears have cleared their quarantine period and are ready to receive visitors, expected to be sometime late next month, said a zoo spokesman.

News that Indonesia will receive the bears comes after two other pandas from China, Meng Meng and Jiao Qing, arrived at the Berlin Zoo in June, just days ahead of a Group of 20 summit attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in July.

However, panda-mania seems to have yet to hit Indonesia, with most people unaware that the country will be getting the bears from China, prompting questions about the muted reception.

Their impending arrival comes at an awkward time in relations between the two countries, largely due to Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea.

China is a growing investor in Indonesia, and both countries have long enjoyed friendly ties. But Beijing's claims last year that parts of Indonesia's waters off the Natunas are its "traditional fishing grounds" have led to some tension.

Bilateral ties took a new turn in July, when Jakarta named waters in its Exclusive Economic Zone, located just off its northern perimeter, the North Natuna Sea.

Beijing has publicly dismissed the move as "meaningless" and called for the name to be dropped, but Jakarta has yet to respond.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesia to get pandas from China'. Print Edition | Subscribe