Jakarta (AFP) – Two giant pandas from China arrived in Indonesia on Thursday in an act of “panda diplomacy” aimed at celebrating 60 years of bilateral ties.
Cai Tao and Hu Chun, both aged seven, arrived from Sichuan province and will be housed at a safari zoo in Bogor, a city near the capital Jakarta.
The pandas were lent by Beijing to mark the diplomatic anniversary despite recent tensions between the nations, with a number of clashes between Chinese and Indonesian vessels in the South China Sea.
The delivery is the first time Indonesia has been lent pandas, the country’s forest and environment ministry said, making it the 16th country to be gifted with the animals by China.
A safari zoo will be their home for the next ten years once they clear an initial month-long quarantine.
“We hope we can breed them, that Hu Chun and Cai Tao will mate so they’ll have offspring while they’re here,” said Yulius Suprihardo, a spokesman for Taman Safari Indonesia.
The zoo has built a 1,300 metres squared panda home for Cai Tao, who weighs 128kg (282 pounds), and Hu Chun, who weighs 113 kg (249 pounds).
Giant pandas are considered vulnerable and there are only about 1,800 in the wild, according to conservation organisation World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
China’s use of giant pandas — a national icon — as gifts has a long history and has been dubbed “panda diplomacy”.
Indonesia maintains it has no maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea, unlike other Asian nations, and does not contest ownership of reefs or islets there.
But Beijing’s expansive claims in the sea overlap Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone — waters where a state has the right to exploit resources — around the remote Natuna Islands.
The skirmishes have prompted Indonesia to bolster defences there.
In July, Indonesia changed the name South China Sea to North Natuna Sea to show its sovereignty in the waters, prompting criticism from Beijing.