Panda visit to boost China-Belgium ties

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Belgian Ambassador to China Michel Malherbe [Xinhua]

Belgium is looking forward to the coming of two giant pandas and hopes their visit will deepen cooperation between the two countries in various fields, Belgian Ambassador to China said in an interview with Xinhua on Friday.

Xing Hui, the male, and Hao Hao, the female, are both 4 years old and are bound for Belgium's Pairi Daiza zoo for the next 15 years.

Michel Malherbe said the pair symbolize China's trust in Belgium, since very few countries had received pandas for such a long period of time.

"They can be a symbol of deeper understanding and friendship between the younger generations of both countries," he said.

Belgium is willing to deepen bilateral cooperation with China in such fields as high-level visits, foreign investment and people-to-people exchange, especially among younger generations.

Currently, 43 Chinese panda guests including their cubs born overseas live in 17 zoos across 12 foreign countries with established research cooperation with China. Usually, the lease term is 10 years.

Back to 1987, two giant pandas visited Belgium but only stayed a few months. "When hearing pandas will come again, there is really a panda mania in Belgium," the Ambassador said.

Giant panda Hao Hao (L) and Xing Hui (R) [Xinhua]

Up to 12,000 people showed interests in welcoming the giant pandas to Pairi Daiza zoo, but only 2,000 will attend the ceremony.

The Brussels Airport even told panda fans in Belgium not to go there because the pandas will not be seen.

The Ambassador will attend the departure ceremony for the two in Chengdu, the provincial capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, this Saturday.

When his trip was announced on Twitter, an account named "Xing Hui and Hao Hao" posted a message, asking him to smuggle in an apple or two for them to eat and play with.

The pandas' twitter account has posted more than 400 entries and attracted many followers.

Only about 1,600 giant pandas still exist in the wild, and more than 300 live in captivity around the world.

China has set up 64 nature reserves, which cover 60 percent of their natural habitat and 70 percent of wild individuals.

The Ambassador appreciated China's efforts and progress in wildlife protection and is eager to share experience and green technology.

"Belgium is a densely populated country, which posed a challenge to the nature, we also have been trying to safeguard natural environment," he said.

China and Belgium have strong bilateral ties. Belgium was China's sixth largest trading partner in the E.U. in 2012, with bilateral trade volume of 26.3 billion U.S. dollars.

Belgium expects to enhance cooperation with China in the chemical industry, medical equipment, metals, diamonds, machinery, pharmaceuticals, and, especially, ecotechnology.

Malherbe hopes the panda visit will attract more investors and tourists from China to Belgium.

To boost Chinese tourism, he inaugurated a new Belgian Visa Application Center in Beijing this Friday.

He suggested younger Chinese people take a close look at Europe and found many young people today spend more time in less-known places. "That is where we come in."

"I wish Xing Hui and Hao Hao to be the symbol of friendship between Belgium and China and we will take care of them," the Ambassador said.

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