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Chinese premier in Australia promises replacement pandas

June 16, 2024

In the latest panda diplomacy, China will send a new pair of giant pandas to Australia as a loan agreement for the current pair ends this year.

Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide
Li Qiang visited Wang Wang (pictured) and Fu Ni at Adelaide ZooImage: Asanka Ratnayake/POOL/AFP/Getty Images

China will provide two new giant pandas to Australia's Adelaide Zoo to replace a popular pair that returns to China later this year, visiting Premier Li Qiang said on Sunday.

The China-born giant pandas, Wang Wang and Fu Ni, were loaned to Australia in 2009 in a global preservation scheme that also serves as a tool of Beijing's "panda diplomacy".

Since then the Adelaide Zoo has been their home.

Adelaide Zoo to receive replacement pandas

The two furry creatures are the only pandas in the Southern Hemisphere and have failed to produce cubs in Australia, including through artificial insemination.

Breeding is a difficult task for the low-sexed pandas.

"Wang Wang and Fu Ni have been away from home for 15 years — I guess they must have missed their home a lot — so they will return to China before the end of the year," Li said.

"But what I can tell you is that we will provide a new pair of equally beautiful, lovely and adorable pandas as soon as possible."

The Premier added that the zoo staff would be invited to "pick a pair."

Berlin-born pandas head for a new life in China

Thawing trade ties

Li arrived in Adelaide on Saturday as part of a four-day tour after China withdrew a series of trade sanctions on major Australian exports.

It is also the first visit to Australia by a Chinese premier in seven years, marking an improvement in bilateral ties since Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's center-left Labor Party came to power in 2022.

Li and Albanese are scheduled to hold closed-door talks in Canberra on Monday, ranging from issues like foreign influence, human rights, alleged "unsafe" behavior by China's military in the region, and their contest in the Pacific.

"China-Australia relations were back on track after a period of twists and turns, generating tangible benefits to the people of both countries," Li said, as per a translation released on Sunday by the Chinese Embassy in Australia.

"History has proven that mutual respect, seeking common ground while shelving differences and mutually beneficial cooperation are the valuable experience in growing China-Australia relations, and must be upheld and carried forward," he added.

China Premier to visit lithium mine in Australia

On Tuesday, Li will also visit a Chinese-controlled lithium processing plant in Western Australia's Perth. 

The trip to Tianqi Lithium Energy Australia's processing plant highlights Beijing's keenness to invest in critical minerals. 

Australia and the United States have raised concerns over China's dominance in critical minerals, which play a vital role in the global transition to renewable energy sources.

Can Europe's push for critical minerals work?

dvv/ab (AFP, AP, Reuters)