Two giant pandas arrived in Indonesia yesterday, on loan for 10 years from China, a move officials said was testimony to the growing friendship between the two countries.
Both animals are expected to be ready for public viewing at Taman Safari, a zoo in Bogor, West Java, just two hours from Jakarta, by the end of this year.
One zoo official said Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo would inaugurate the giant panda exhibit shortly after it opens to the public.
Cai Tao, a male bear weighing 128kg, and Hu Chun, a 15kg lighter female bear, landed at Soekarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta after a six-hour-and-fifty-minute flight on Garuda Indonesia. The aircraft was accorded a water salute and Chinese and Indonesian officials, including zoo staff who had spent time in China learning how to care for and breed the bears, were on hand to receive the animals.
"Pandas are not only China's state treasure, but also the symbol of friendship and agriculture," Acting Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Sun Weide said at the welcoming ceremony.
"Today, Hu Chun and Cai Tao have travelled here to bring the feelings of friendship of the 1.3 billion Chinese nationals to the 260 million Indonesians," he added.
Echoing the envoy, Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said: "This year, Indonesia gets the honour to be the 16th nation to receive pandas. We hope this will further promote the friendship of Indonesia and China."
TOKEN OF FRIENDSHIP
Today, Hu Chun and Cai Tao have travelled here to bring the feelings of friendship of the 1.3 billion Chinese nationals to the 260 million Indonesians.
ACTING CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO INDONESIA SUN WEIDE, on the pandas which are on loan for 10 years from China.
The two seven-year-old bears will live in a 4,800 sqm enclosure at the zoo, which is located 1,700m above sea level. This makes it possible for the animals to live at a similar altitude to their origin in Chengdu, Xinhua news agency quoted Mr Jansen Manansang, director of Taman Safari, as saying.
"We will first have a soft launch, the start of public viewing of the giant pandas, then the grand launching by President Joko Widodo and President Xi Jinping," he added.
When contacted by The Straits Times, Chinese embassy officials in Jakarta remained tight-lipped about President Xi's planned visit.
China has been sending pandas abroad since the 1950s, in a gesture widely widely known as "panda diplomacy", to foster ties with other countries.
The pandas for Indonesia arrived despite recent maritime tensions between the two Asian giants.