BY LIM SUE GOAN
Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE
Sin Chew Daily
American computer-animated action comedy film Kung Fu Panda received a global box office of over US$600 million and has further intensified the giant panda craze.
Giant pandas look funny and are very well accepted among children. And now, Malaysians will soon be able to see them here.
China agreed to loan two baby giant pandas to Malaysia for 10 years, proving a close relationship between the two countries. It might not be successful for Vietnam and Philippines if they make the same request.
China has always advocated a peaceful rise and thus, it has adopted a soft culture to conquer and attract the people of the world, just like how the US did. It was the Ping Pong Diplomacy in the 1970s and it is the Panda Diplomacy today.
There was an implication behind the move of China to offer two giant pandas, later named Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, as a gift to the people of Taiwan. It had also triggered a dispute in the society. However, when the giant pandas were moved to the Taipei City Zoo, it had still set off a giant panda craze.
The two giant pandas lent to the Thailand's Chiang Mai Zoo have attracted many visitors while Singapore also hopes that Kai Kai and Jia Jia can further boost its tourism industry.
What is the purpose of Malaysia to bring the giant pandas here? The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry did not mention about tourism in its statement, but stressed that "the cooperation would enable Malaysia to conduct conservation research, adding that the presence of the pandas would promote public awareness on China's panda conservation efforts."
However, there is something similar to Singapore. China agreed to loan two giant pandas to Singapore in commemoration of the countries' 20th anniversary of diplomatic relationship, while Malaysia and China will celebrate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relationship in 2014.
The diplomatic relationship between China and Malaysia was established in the 1974 by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's father, Tun Abdul Razak and the posters showing the moment when Abdul Razak was shaking hands with Mao Zedong could be found across the country during the following general election campaign. It brought a landslide victory to the BN.
And now, the next general election is approaching and inevitably, the giant panda loan agreement was reminiscent of the election. However, the countries will sign the agreement only on June 15, the giant pandas would not be able to arrive before the general election. Moreover, today's situation is different from the situation 38 years ago, when the Chinese had a very deep affection for China. Today, young people do not have much feeling even the Shenzhou 9 is about to launch.
Since the giant pandas would not bring a great political effect, it should then serve diplomatic, economic and biological purposes.
Economically, the country would have to pay a loan fee of up to US$1 million per year and spend a few millions ringgit for maintenance, including maintaining the sanctuary, planting bamboo and training staff. Therefore, it needs a large number of visitors to offset the cost.
The pandas will be placed in a special exhibit in Taman Wetland, Putrajaya. I have been there and it is actually a few dozen kilometres from Kuala Lumpur. The place usually has very few visitors.
I doubt that how many people would be willing to travel all along the way to the wetland just to see a pair of pandas, as the place has no other attraction. Moreover, our neighbouring countries are having their own pairs of pandas.
Perhaps, money is not an issue to Malaysia, since we could spend RM10 million for the recent Hari Belia Negara 2012 event, it should not be a problem to keep a pair of giant panda, right?
In fact, during the administration of former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Badawi, the government has shown its interest in keeping a pair of pandas. And now, two pandas are finally coming. However, the passion has receded and it is just the matter of we are having what others are having, that's all.