News that two giant pandas are coming to Malaysia is most definitely godsend to many children in this country.
What these young kids, and their parents and adult relatives alike, may not be aware, though, is the political implication behind the two furry cuteys.
US President Richard Nixon embarked on an ice-breaking visit to China in 1972. Reciprocating the goodwill, Beijing gifted a pair of giant pandas.
The gift took the world by storm, and before long, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing found themselves on the front covers of major newspapers worldwide.
When the giant pandas arrived at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, they sent every American instantly electrified. Kids and adults joined the seemingly endless queues to catch a glimpse of Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing.
During the Cold War years, China was worlds apart from the West. Most Americans had not seen a Chinese before and all that they knew about the Chinese people were their mere fabrications. However, through the giant pandas, they managed to establish their cognition towards the Chinese people.
All of a sudden, the Western world became interested in the Chinese people, thinking that the people were just as lovable and kind-hearted as the two bears in Washington's zoo.
That was the honeymoon period for Sino-US relations.
Thanks to the giant panda diplomacy, the Americans paired up with the Chinese to confront the Soviet Union.
Thereafter giant pandas have assumed the roles of the perfect diplomats. If Beijing wants to befriend any nation, it will present a pair of giant pandas to that country.
So, we had Lan Lan and Kang Kang in Japan, Bao Bao in Germany, and much later, Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan in Taiwan.
However, China stopped acting so generously after late 1980s. Pandas are only for lease, no more free gifts. As if that is not enough, the recipients must also shoulder the massive upkeeping costs, reflecting the Middle Kingdom's decisive transition to market economy.
The panda's rendezvous here might have come a little too late. As a matter of fact, they should have been here much earlier.
Prior to the 2008 general election, PM Abdullah's aides were racking their brains how to win over the Chinese voters.
The way Chinese Malaysians vote is weird. Sometimes, some unrelated acts could flame up the passion of Chinese voters and tilt them towards the ruling coalition.
The most typical instance was the official visit by Tun Abdul Razak to China in 1974 which successfully drew Chinese votes to BN in the general election that followed.
Back to Abdullah, sure enough he could not repeat what Tun Razak had done, as visits by Malaysian prime ministers to Beijing were such a common practice nowadays that they would no longer be equated to electoral bounties for the BN.
But something flashed past the minds of his aides, who believed the giant pandas would do what Tun Razak's landmark visit had done so well.
In the end, the pandas didn't come, anyway, and many Chinese votes were drained away from the ruling coalition.
And now with the giant pandas making headlines again in this country, I have little clue whether this has got something to do with the upcoming general election, or could it just be another coincidence?
Whatever it is, the prominence of panda diplomacy has slowly dwindled and will no longer translate into significant political windfall, save for some cheers from the young and the not-so-young.
It is a good thing for both man and panda that the animal is gradually depegged from human politics.