MH370 freezes ‘panda diplomacy’

April 12, 2014 - 12:00:00 am
Crew members of a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion operate radar and sensor systems while taking part in the search for the missing Malaysia Airways Flight MH370 over the southern Indian Ocean yesterday.

KUALA LUMPUR:  China has postponed plans to send a pair of pandas to Malaysia next week, a minister said yesterday, as bilateral relations remain uneasy over the disappearance of flight MH370.

The two countries agreed in 2012 that China would send the giant pandas for a 10-year stay in Malaysia, in Beijing’s latest use of “panda diplomacy” to cement ties with other countries.

But Malaysia’s environment minister G Palanivel said: “They (China) are waiting for the results of MH370.“They will delay the arrival,” he said in a text message. “They might send in late May.”

In a separate public statement, Palanivel said China and Malaysia have agreed that the giant pandas should arrive “at a more significant date” in May. May 31 marks the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Palanivel did not elaborate on the reasons for the delay, but the circumstances of the animals’ planned arrival appeared likely to cause embarrassment for China’s government -- they were due arrive on April 16 on a Malaysia Airlines flight.

China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner and Kuala Lumpur had declared 2014 as “China-Malaysia Friendship Year.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had requested the pandas from former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, who left office last year. The pandas -- Feng Yi (“Phoenix”) and Fu Wa (“Lucky”) -- have already caused controversy in Malaysia over plans to house them in special $7.7m facility in the national zoo in Kuala Lumpur.

Environmentalists have said the money would have been better spent on conservation efforts for threatened Malaysian wildlife.