Giant panda Xiang Xiang may not return China from Japan at the end of 2020 as planned due to COVID-19: Chinese FM
Published: Dec 10, 2020 11:15 PM

People look at the female giant panda cub Xiang Xiang at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo, Japan on Tuesday, the first day of its re-opening after nearly a four-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: AFP

Giant panda Xiang Xiang, who was scheduled to return to China from Japan at the end of this year, may not be able to do so due to the COVID-19 epidemic, Chinese Foreign Ministry announced at Thursday's media briefing.

The cooperating authorities on the two sides, giving full consideration to the cub's safety and health, are consulting to set the date for her return, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at the media briefing.

Previous report said Xiang Xiang, the star panda at Tokyo Ueno Zoo in Japan, would be sent back to China later this month. Ueno district in Tokyo held farewell activities to express gratitude and good wishes. Many Japanese netizens left messages expressing their love for Xiang Xiang.

Hua said that Xiang Xiang has touched the hearts of many people, especially the Japanese people. On Thursday morning, Fuji TV also asked the Chinese FM spokesperson's office about her possible departure. 

The Chinese FM has contacted relevant department for information. Since its launch in February 2011, the giant panda cooperation and research project between the two sides has been progressing smoothly and has yielded fruitful results in panda conservation and breeding, scientific research, technological exchanges and public education, she said.

"We fully understand the Japanese people's reluctance to part with Xiang Xiang, and we are very grateful to the Japanese people, especially the Ueno Zoo, for their thoughtful care," Hua said.

She noted that the giant panda has indeed brought happiness to the Japanese people, especially the children. It has also become a good envoy of friendship between the two countries and made unique contributions to promoting the friendly feelings between the two peoples.

29-year-old Morita Hiroki from Kobe told the Global Times on Thursday that he is glad to know that Xiang Xiang will extend her stay in Japan. 

Morita said that he plans to travel to Tokyo to say goodbye to Xiang Xiang before she leaves if the epidemic situation is not severe.

"I will miss Xiang Xiang so much when she returns to China," he said.

Three-year-old Xiang Xiang was born in Ueno Zoo in June 2017. Her parents Fairy and Billy (Japanese names for Shin Shin and Ri Ri) have been favorites at the zoo since their arrival on loan from China in February 2011, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

According to relative agreement, Xiang Xiang would return to China at the age of two in June 2019. However, the two sides had negotiated to extend her stay in Japan to the end of 2020.

As public broadcaster NHK reported on Thursday, Xiang Xiang's stay may be extended to the end of May next year.