KUALA LUMPUR - Tensions over the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is believed to have led to a postponement of the highly anticipated arrival of two pandas from China, Malaysian media reported.
The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry issued a statement on Thursday saying the ceremony to send off the two pandas, Feng Yi and Fu Wa, from Chengdu had been postponed until further notice, Malaysian Insider reported.
"The event has been postponed due to unavoidable reasons. A new date will be made known later," the ministry said in a short statement without stating the specific reason for the delay.
The Star reported that the sending-off ceremony was to have taken place at Dujiangyan Disease Control Centre in Chengdu.
The two giant pandas were transferred from the Bifengxia Panda Base in Ya'an to the Dujiangyan, both in Sichuan province, in February.
Malaysia's environment minister G. Palanivel seemed to suggest that the pandas would eventually arrive, telling AFP news agency that China was waiting for the issues related to MH370 to be resolved.
"They will delay the arrival," he said in a text message. "They might send in late May."
Chinese nationals and media had been critical of Malaysia's handling of the MH370 crisis, including accusing Putrajaya of withholding crucial information.
"The Chinese are furious. They have lost 153 citizens aboard MH370 and now they are giving pandas to Malaysia," Australian news portal news.com.au reported.
"Why would China do such a thing?"
At least 30,000 tourists from China are expected to cancel their trips to Malaysia this year in the wake of the MH370 crisis.
Two-thirds of the 227 passengers on flight MH370 bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8 were from China.
For decades, it has been common practice for Beijing to offer a pair of giant pandas to its nearest and dearest allies to mark an important event.
In Malaysia's case, this year marks the 40th anniversary of its diplomatic ties with China and Putrajaya has spent millions preparing for their enclosure.
But since MH370 disappeared, the Chinese are fuming as Putrajaya has failed to provide the answers the families of passengers aboard the aircraft are seeking.
Some social media users also implied that Putrajaya was responsible for the missing aircraft and its passengers and crew, and said Kuala Lumpur did not deserve the giant pandas.
Some had begged the Beijing government not to allow the giant pandas to go "missing" too.