A Pregnant Panda is a Political Animal

A new issue has risen to the top of the political agenda in Tokyo: is the giant panda Xiang Xiang soon to be joined by a sibling?

Xiang Xiang lives at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo and earlier this month, the city’s governor, Yuriko Koike, announced that the cub’s mother, Shin Shin, is showing signs of pregnancy.

It is fortunate that pandas are tolerant of press intrusion into their private lives, as the sexual behaviour of Shin Shin and her partner Ri Ri has been reported all over the world, including on the BBC, Russia Today, Arab News, Bloomberg and The Economist.

The media inform us that Shin Shin began to show signs of heat on March 4th, and was found mating with Ri Ri, on March 6th.

Shin Shin and Xiang Xiang

Shielded from view

Shin Shin’s been out of the public eye since then and has not been seen since the zoo recently reopened, following the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

NHK used its briefing with China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, to address the issue.

NHK: Japan’s Ueno Zoo has announced that giant panda Shin Shin may be pregnant. What is China’s comment?

Wang Wenbin: I haven’t seen the relevant report. What I want to say is that the giant panda is a national treasure and a name card of China. It is deeply loved by people of all countries including Japan and a well-deserved envoy of friendship. We hope Shin Shin will give birth to the cubs smoothly.

“The giant panda is a national treasure and a name card of China” – Wang Wenbin

China loaned the pandas to Japan ten years ago, when diplomatic relations between the nations were in a better state than they are now.

Xiang Xiang, who was born in June 2017, was due to be returned to China last year, but the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which manages the zoo, was able to negotiate an extension of her stay.

Her parents are set to remain in Japan for another five years, although a new cub might change matters. On China’s side, there will be an expectation that the pandas are well cared for and Sino-Japanese relations remain stable.

Shin Shin relaxes

Political animals

The South China Morning Post shed light on the politics when it ran an excerpt of an interview with Tsuyoshi Shirawa, who operates Shizuoka-based Rep Japan, which imports and trades zoo animals.

He said pandas were highly sought after by zoos in Japan – but they were “impossible” to obtain without Beijing’s consent.

“It is impossible to buy a panda because they are all owned by China, which charges what they term a ‘conservation fee’ of around US$1 million a year,” he said.

“But the business is entirely political. This is an animal that is very popular, rare and controlled by one country, so it is used by Beijing to buy political favours,” he said. “And any country that does not want to follow those rules simply has no chance of getting a panda.”