Washington's beloved pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, will be allowed to stay at the Smithsonian National Zoo for five more years, Chinese officials announced Wednesday amid a lavish state visit by China's president.
The panda pair will remain in Washington until December 2015 for cooperative research under a five-year, $2.5-million extension of the 10-year, $10-million agreement that expired last month, said China Wildlife Conservation Assn. Secretary Gen. Zang Chunlin.
The announcement came as Chinese President Hu Jintao was in Washington, where he met President Barack Obama at the White House.
Pandas have a long history intertwined with U.S.-China politics. The first panda couple, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, arrived in 1972 as a gift to the American people and lived more than 20 years at the zoo after President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China. Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing produced five cubs, but none of them survived.
"This is a great opportunity for the American people to know more about Chinese culture and this is also an opportunity to advance our friendship and to deepen understanding," Zang said through an interpreter.