Giant Pandas were used as diplomatic gifts for as long as history can remember, dating at least as far back as the 7th century Tang Dynasty, when Empress Wu Zetian sent a pair to the Japanese Mikado Emperor. Just when the pandas thought they won’t get “exported again”, their country did it again in what was known as “Panda Diplomacy” era in the 1950s, thanks largely to Cold War. From 1958 to 1982 alone, China gave 23 precious pandas to 9 different countries.
Of course, the panda diplomacy hit its peak when Chairman Mao gave Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling to US President Richard Nixon in 1972 after their meeting, ending 25 years of isolation between China and United States. US reciprocate with a pair of musk oxen, though one dies immediately while the other loses all of its fur. Poor oxen, I supposed they are more sensitive than panda after they learnt about being exported. Hence the relatively peaceful period when the Americans busy admiring pandas and Bruce Lee.
Proven to be successful as a diplomatic tool, China presented two of the cute animals (Ching-Ching and Chia-Chia) to United Kingdom 2 years later. It was such a successful tool that French throw a tantrum, insulted because the US got their pandas before them, and China had to give Yen-Yen and Li-Li to the French in 1973 to prevent them from resurrect their mighty Napoleon Bonaparte (*grin*). Even Taiwan, China’s nearest enemy, was given a pair of Tuan-Tuan and Yuan-Yuan in 2008, as a symbol of diplomatic ties being mended between the countries.
However in 1984, the Chinese discovered that there could be a better business model from the panda diplomacy concept. Thanks to capitalism, China found a new formula to profit from the diplomatic tool – now everybody can “Lease a Panda” instead of “Own a Panda”. Here’s the marketing concept – Pandas will be loaned abroad in pairs for cooperative research (*ahem*) with Chinese scientists. The fee – USD1 million per year, payable to China, for a period of 10 years. And if somehow you’re lucky that the loan pair of pandas produce offspring, all the cubs become the property of Peoples Republic of China.
Hoping to use the same panda diplomacy to win local ethnic-Chinese votes as the election-window is getting smaller, the desperate Malaysia PM Najib Razak proudly trumpet that China had decided to loan two endangered baby pandas for a 10-year period. Almost 40-years ago Najib’s father met and shook hands with Mao Zedong in China and thereafter came back home to call a snap election. It brought a landslide victory to the BN. Some said it was a clever plan to win the Chinese votes after the 13 May 1969 racial riots. And now his son PM Najib hopes to reuse the same stunt to his advantage (*grin*).
Conveniently, Najib didn’t tell the public that the cost of loaning the pandas alone would come to a cool USD20 million for the 10-year period, excluding huge cost of building air-conditioned enclosures, maintenance, training and grade-A tender bamboo shoots which need to be imported. The pandas will be placed in a special exhibit in Taman Wetland, Putrajaya. The problem is this wetland is so far away that it would be a miracle if it can attacts large enough number of visitors to offset the cost. But knowing how Najib’s Barisan Nasional previous bailout works, the cost of maintenance and return on investments never cross their minds.
If a pair of white and black bear can swing some Chinese votes, so much the better. Otherwise cronies can still make (guaranteed) profit with Najib Panda Sdn Bhd project which includes infrastructure building, commissioning, maintaining, importing (bamboo shoots) and collecting revenues from the new superstars. The contract probably would be bias with the government guarantee a fix number of visitors else compensation plan kicks in, the same way highway concessionaires make the kill. However you see it, this exclusive “panda concessionaire” will be laughing its way to the bank, pocketing taxpayers money.
Actually, Najib should save the embarrassment with the contest to name the two pandas. If his Ah-Jib-Gor Chinese-language Facebook page is any indicator, the contest doesn’t help but backfires badly with majority of comments ridicule the prime minister with sarcastic names. Names like “Bersih”, “Lynas”, “Altantuya”, “Cincin”, “BagBag”, “Berkin”, “RaRa”, “SuaSuah” and many others were suggested, specifically targeted at PM Najib’s tainted administration from lavish spending to murder allegation. Maybe Najib could attract visitors and prove the critics wrong by naming the pandas “Toto” and “Magnum”. Surely gamblers would not mind paying super expensive ticket price just for a blessing from the animals (*grin*).
Netizens also used the opportunity to tease Najib administration by relating the pandas to NFC’s RM250 million scandal, suggesting that the pandas should stay in multi-million luxury condominium, since cows stay in such environment as well. Obviously majority were skeptical that the pandas would be taken care of, when they can’t even take care of cows in the first place. One wonder if there will be new scandal where the precious pandas be re-leased elsewhere and the money used to buy properties in Singapore.
Critics also slammed Najib administration for wasting taxpayers’ money on pandas when the country’s own tiger, Borneo rhinoceros, orangutan, “pygmy” elephants are equally on the edge of extinction. Many are pessimistic if the pair of pandas can ever graduate from the 10-year period and emerge alive, judging from how the animals were abused and neglected in the local zoos. Of course, Najib administration can always claim that the pandas committed suicide if they were to die while in Putrajaya Wetland. On the fun side, Najib administration should perhaps negotiate secretly (by whisper) with China to lower the pandas leasing cost by reciprocate Malaysia’s delicacies.
Many may not know this but the biggest Goliath frog species in the world came from Malaysia. There’re two very rare species – scientific name Pyxicephalus Ibra-Ali and Pyxicephalus Hee-Apa-Nama. While the fomer is Malaysian former prime minister’s favourite pet, the latter is so special that it can even spray pepper at its enemies (*gulp*). If China pandas are considered an endangered species with only 1600 left in the wild, Malaysia frogs are even more precious considering only a handful known to survive the Mar 2008 election aftermath, with Ibra-Ali and Hee-Apa-Nama the only species alive (*grin*) from the Pyxicephalus family. Heck, US10 million a piece per year for such national treasure is a steal should China accept the exchange.
On a serious note, let’s hope that the pair of pandas shortlisted will not die in vain in Malaysia, a country infamous for its third-world mentality when comes to maintenance. In order to cut cost and make more profit, the cronies shortlisted to manage the welfare of the pandas could just mix local bamboo with other local ingredients such as sambal belacan. Nevertheless, PM Najib will not be here for the next 10-year to ensure the pandas are in one piece to be returned to China so he does not care. What is certain is the taxpayers money to the tune of tens of millions of dollars will be wasted due to desperation of one person’s effort to win Chinese support. And this whole Panda Marketing plan isn’t working at all.
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