Just hours after he touched down in Tokyo's Haneda airport, President Hu Jintao scored a small diplomatic victory - by offering two pandas to a Tokyo zoo which had just lost its beloved Ling Ling. The loan - China has stopped making pandas gifts - will surely be welcomed by tens of thousands of visitors to Tokyo's Ueno Zoo each year since Ling Ling, who died last Wednesday at the age of 22, or the equivalent of 70 years for humans, was the zoo's most popular animal. And now China's loan of two pandas will delight panda-lovers in Japan - especially if there is any hope of having cubs. Ling Ling may have been shy and timid, and perhaps rather unattractive in the eyes of female pandas. They shunned him as a mate, but he nonetheless reigned as the zoo's star and proved a big attraction. Visitors flocked to his enclosure - he was the most popular animal for donations and his souvenirs always sold best. And they were still flocking to Ling Ling's residence yesterday, leaving flowers, sweets and notes wishing that Ling Ling would be happy in heaven. Ling Ling was a gift to the zoo in 1992 when Beijing and Tokyo zoos exchanged panda cubs to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Panda diplomacy has witnessed the ups and downs of Sino-Japanese relations. The last time a Chinese president visited Japan, Jiang Zemin in 1998, the trip did not generate a gift of pandas given the tense atmosphere surrounding unresolved historical issues. The zoo's education and publicity officer, Ida Motoyasu, said before the offer was announced: 'If China can give us some more pandas, I personally hope they can be fertile, and be family oriented and kids-loving.' The zoo failed to produce any panda cubs between Ling Ling and three female pandas. He had been living alone since 2005, after two others had died and a visiting panda returned to Mexico. The endangered species, known to have little interest in sex, limiting reproduction, has dwindled to about 1,600, most living in bamboo forests of China's southwestern Sichuan province . While not everyone was aware of the symbolic duty shouldered by Ling Ling - a tearful little girl asking for a panda soft toy from her daddy thought that pandas were from America - Ling Ling's carer knew he was more than just a cuddly animal star. 'Pandas have been representatives of the bridge of friendship between Japan and China for 36 years,' explained Ling Ling's carer, Kuramochi Hiroshi. 'Japan is very proud and has worked very hard to bring up these pandas,' he said. 'I hope there will continue to be such representatives.' Japan has eight other giant pandas, all on loan for research and breeding.