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China to send a new pair of giant pandas to Australia in sign of warming ties

By Xiaofei Xu, Alex Stambaugh and Kathleen Magramo, CNN

(CNN) — China will provide a new pair of giant pandas to Australia, Premier Li Qiang said on Sunday, in the latest sign of warming relations between the two countries.

Li made the announcement at Adelaide Zoo as he began a four-day trip to the country, Australian public broadcaster ABC reported.  He said China will send a new pair of giant pandas to the zoo in Southern Australia after its current pair return to China later this year, according to Chinese state media.

Li’s visit to Australia, the first by a Chinese premier in seven years, comes after Beijing lifted high tariffs on Australian wines and rolled back barriers on barley, timber and coal that were imposed following then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s call in 2020 for an international inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic in China.

Relations between the countries have thawed however, since the Labor party swept to power in Australia in 2022.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner, accounting for nearly one third of its overseas trade, according to the Australian government. Meanwhile, commodities from Australia are important for Beijing’s efforts to revive its stuttering economy.

China loans pandas to more than 20 countries as envoys of friendship from Beijing – a program that’s often referred to as “panda diplomacy” – which is at times seen as a barometer of relations.

Giant pandas Wang Wang and Fu Ni, the only pandas in the southern hemisphere, have been on loan to Adelaide Zoo since November 2009. In 2019 a deal was struck to extend their stay for another five years, according to Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua.

Li, China’s second-highest ranked official, said he was glad to see that “that though far away from homeland, Wang Wang and Fu Ni have been well looked after and settled down to live a happy life in Australia,” according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry.

“They have become envoys of friendship between China and Australia, and a symbol of the profound friendship between the two peoples,” Li said in the statement.

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