China pledges to send pandas to Malaysia 'at appropriate time' after delay over MH370 search
Panda couple Feng Yi and Fu Wa were supposed to fly out on April 15
China said the two pandas promised to Malaysia to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties will arrive at an "appropriate time".
The announcement was made after Malaysia announced their scheduled trip next week would be delayed, at the request of the Chinese government.
Giant pandas Feng Yi and Fu Wa were supposed to leave the Sichuan conservation centre on April 15 and arrive early the next day, according to a spokesman for Malaysian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
This afternoon, the Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur issued a statement saying that negotiations were being carried out and that the pandas would arrive "at an appropriate time in the near future”.
“Bilateral relations will not be affected by any individual incident,” it said.
A Chinese embassy staff member told the South China Morning Post earlier today that the delay was a gesture of respect for the passengers, mostly Chinese, and the crew on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and their aggrieved families, as the chances of finding the jet increases.
It was unclear when the transfer would be resumed.
The female Feng Yi (which means “Phoenix”) and her partner Fu Wa (“Lucky”) were meant as gifts to celebrate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries this year.
But they have come to be seen as a comfort or peace offering to Malaysia after facing fierce backlash from the Chinese public over its handling of the tragedy.
The two sides signed a 10-year panda loan agreement in 2012.
Malaysia has prepared to house them at the Zoo Negara in Malaysia’s Selangor state, some 50 minutes’ drive from the capital Kuala Lumpur.
To make the pandas’ stay comfortable, it spent 25 million ringgit (HK$59.4 million) on a panda complex, featuring two bamboo fields totalling 16 hectares, local media reports said.
WATCH: Meet Feng Yi and Fu Wa in a report by a Malaysian news outlet
The Chinese embassy briefed Malaysia’s deputy environment minister about the delay on Thursday afternoon.
The ministry accepted and respected the decision by the Chinese government, the Sinchew Daily reported.
On Thursday evening, the ministry e-mailed reporters leaving for China to cover the pandas’ departure saying the ceremony on April 15 was delayed until further notice.