Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

Merkel's China Diplomacy Yields Two Giant Pandas for Berlin Zoo

  • Deal caps Airbus order, agreement on financial cooperation
  • Chancellor seeks to bolster Chinese ties in two-day visit

Amid a series of business and financial deals, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s two-day trip to China yielded one very palpable, crowd-pleasing result: two giant pandas for the Berlin zoo.

After meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Thursday, Merkel said the two governments had begun talks on transferring the pair of pandas.

“This is a very special part of China that many people in Germany will be happy about,” Merkel said.

The chancellor parlayed ever-closer ties with one of Germany’s biggest trade partners to win the deal on the black-and-white animals, native to southern China. The announcement capped a string of business agreements including a $17 billion order for 130 Airbus Group SE planes and a stock-exchange venture unveiled during the trip.

China has wielded panda diplomacy for decades, most notably with the gift of two of the animals to the Washington National Zoo in 1972 after President Richard Nixon’s ground-breaking visit to Beijing.

‘China’s Sovereignty’

“Panda bears are a part of China’s sovereignty,” Li said after meeting with Merkel. “They will be shown to a broad German public at Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten and remain there.”

The animals’ significance to China is symbolized by yuan-denominated so-called panda bonds that the country is using to help open a part of its credit market to global investors and establish the yuan as a reserve currency.

The bears will be a boon to a city with an affinity for the animal. The Berlin zoo drew worldwide attention in 2006 when an orphaned polar-bear cub named Knut was nursed through infancy by humans. There’s a bear on the city’s coat of arms.

Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller and the city zoo pressed for a panda deal with Merkel, who approached Li, according to a German official who asked not to be identified according to government protocol. The pandas will not be sold to the zoo, but leased, the official said.

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