How do pandas play into Canada's relationship with China?
Published Monday, March 25, 2013 8:43AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 25, 2013 10:41PM EDT
They’re cute, they’re cuddly and they could be the foundation for a deeper cultural understanding.
Two Chinese pandas, which start their 10-year visit to Canada today, will provide an unprecedented “window" into Chinese culture, according to the president and chief executive officer of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.
Pandas put a face on “a very unique feature of China,” Yuen Pau Woo told CTV’s Power Play Monday evening. “(They) will be a doorway or a window for Canadians to learn more about other aspects of China which are perhaps not quite as cuddly.”
Woo said he hopes the pandas will encourage Canadians to reflect on the growing relationship Canada has with China – a relationship which deepened significantly in December when the federal government gave the green light to the controversial $15.1-billion takeover of Calgary-based Nexen Inc. by the China National Offshore Oil Company. The takeover sparked debate in the oil industry and on Parliament Hill over whether foreign-run firms have a place in the country’s natural resource industry.
Many critics also expressed concerns about national security issues and China’s poor labour and human rights records.
Woo said many Canadians are “wary” of China and he hopes the arrival of the pandas will jumpstart a crucial educational process.
Not everyone, however, believes the pandas will quell feuds between the two nations.
“There’s always going to be these frictions, such as human rights concerns,” Gordon Houlden, director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta, told CTV News Channel on Monday. “There’s going to be questions about security, like cyber threats.”
Houlden said, however, that “if only a drumroll of negativity between Canada and China” exists, that will create its own problems.
“You want some positive energy in the relationship.”
He said the 10-year panda loan will provide Canadians with another lens from which to view China.
“It provides a very cultural, other than business, dimension of China, which is part of how they want to modify and enhance their own image,” Houlden said.
Late Monday morning, five-year-old Er Shun, a female panda, and her four-year-old male companion Da Mao landed in Toronto, where they were touted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a symbol of Canada’s deepening relationship with China.
Harper was among the dignitaries on hand to greet the newest Chinese diplomats in Canada.
“It’s not every day you get to sign for pandas,” Harper told guests and media at the elaborate event.
He described the pandas as “symbols of peace and friendship with all Canadians.”
“Over the coming years these pandas will help us learn more about one another while serving as a reminder of our deepening relationship, a relationship based on mutual respect and growing collaboration.”
The pandas are on loan from the Chinese government to Canada for 10 years – five of which will be spent at the Toronto Zoo, and the remaining five at the Calgary Zoo – as a sign of warmer diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The deal, which will cost $1 million annually, was finalized last year when Harper and his wife visited China. The funds will be redirected to panda resource centres in China.
China’s ambassador to Canada was also on hand for the event.
Zhang Junsai quipped that when he landed in Canada two years ago, his arrival was a low-key event.
“Here today, Er Shun and Da Mao, the two new envoys of friendship from China are accorded with such a grand welcoming ceremony,” he said. “But instead of being jealous, I’m thrilled and overjoyed.
“The arrival of Er Shun and Da Mao is yet another highlight of exchange between our great two nations.”
The FedEx plane carrying the giant pandas -- dubbed the Panda express -- landed at Toronto’s Pearson airport at approximately 10:45 a.m. ET.
Members of the FedEx ‘Panda Team’ were the first to approach the plane after it landed on the tarmac, as a concert band from an Ottawa-area school played ‘O Canada’.
Da Mao was the first off the plane. He roamed around his large Plexiglas crate as Harper took a closer look. The crate carrying Er Shun Da Mao was covered, possibly because the animal was anxious.
Officials attempted to make the bamboo-eating bears’ 12,000 kilometre journey as comfortable as possible.
The FedEx charter specifically geared for the bears was stocked with plenty of bamboo, apples and water. A veterinarian and two attendants were also on the lengthy flight from Chengdu, China. FedEx covered the cost of transporting the bears.
Media and guests were able to briefly see Da Mao through his Plexiglas crates before both pandas were whisked away to the Toronto Zoo, where they will be subject to a mandatory 30-day quarantine.
During that time, zoo keepers will work closely with the animals and monitor their overall health and behaviour while the pandas grow accustomed to their new surroundings.
The panda exhibit is scheduled to open to the public in May.
According to Pandas International, there are approximately 325 pandas in captivity worldwide and an estimated 1,600 in the wild.
The Toronto Zoo said Er Shun and Da Mao were chosen to come to Canada because they are a good genetic match for breeding. They eat mostly bamboo, which will be flown in from China’s Sichuan Province.
It’s the first time in more than 20 years that Canada has hosted a pair of giant pandas.