SAINT-AIGNAN-SUR-CHER - Named "godmother" to France's first panda cub in August, French "First Lady" Brigitte Macron helped baptise her fluffy charge on Monday (Dec 4) in one of her most high-profile outings since her husband's election, AFP reported.
The male cub was the first ever born in France where its mother has been on loan from China since 2012, as part of Beijing's "panda diplomacy".
Mrs Macron, 64, was seen cooing over the infant bear at Beauval Zoo and attempted to pat it. But the grouchy panda barked at her from inside its small enclosure and at one point apparantly tried to snap at her hand, as seen in a video of the event published by The Telegraph.
China's junior foreign minister unveiled the cub's name as Yuan Meng, which means "making a dream come true" in Chinese.
President Emmanuel Macron's wife has kept out of the spotlight since his victory in May, assisting with major state visits and foreign trips but avoiding speaking engagements or interviews.
Faced with a hostile online petition and damaging headlines, Mr Macron dropped plans in August to create an official First Lady status for Mrs Macron which would have given her a formal legal role.
Making her first speech on Monday, Mrs Macron said France had been "proud and happy" to host the pandas from China and that the cub was a symbol of the historic ties between the countries.
"Through him, we have a responsibility to work on building Franco-Chinese friendship," Mrs Macron said in a message addressed to her Chinese counterpart and fellow "godmother" Peng Liyuan, who was meant to attend the ceremony but was absent.
Speaking to AFP afterwards, Mrs Macron said she was "very touched that I've been given this duty towards China".
"It's also a great responsibility," she added.
Panda reproduction, in captivity or in the wild, is notoriously difficult because the female panda goes into heat only once a year for about 48 hours.
But the number of pandas worldwide has rebounded since the black-and-white bear was declared an endangered species in the 1980s, thanks to efforts to protect it and its habitat.
China has dispatched its national treasure to only about a dozen countries, using the animal as a symbol of close relations.
A female and male mate arrived in Beauval in 2012 after high-level negotiations between Paris and Beijing, but Yuan Meng was born through artificial insemination.