Tokyo's zoo has been flooded with calls to refuse a pair of pandas offered by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), fearing that the money from the lease would fund Beijing's clampdown in Tibet, officials said.
Hu, who is paying a rare fence-mending visit to Japan, offered to lease a male and a female panda to replace one of the best-loved animals at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo, Ling Ling, who died last week.
Although the fee is undecided, the going rate is US$1 million a year for a Japanese zoo to rent a panda, Tokyo metropolitan official Kazuomi Nishikiori said.
Chinese and Japanese officials will hold talks next week about the proposed deal for Ueno Zoo, which is run by Tokyo’s local government, he said.
Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, an outspoken critic of China, has called on the zoo to study carefully whether bringing pandas would make financial sense by drawing more visitors.
“They are not divine. I don’t care if they’re there [at the zoo] or not,” Ishihara said before Hu’s visit.
Ueno Zoo and the Tokyo government have received scores of calls about the panda deal, which were overwhelmingly against, officials said. Opponents also put up posters against the transfer on walls at the zoo.
“We have received many calls from ordinary citizens who sometimes hysterically condemn” the proposal, said Hidemasa Hori, an Ueno Zoo official.
“There are others who call and say that Japan doesn’t need to bow its head and pay money just to rent the pandas,” he said.
Many callers cited China’s crackdown on protests in Tibet, saying the issue “is not really the rental fee per se, but more that Japan is supplying Beijing with money.”
However, Hori said that the money to rent pandas would go to a fund that helps preserve the natural habitat of the popular but endangered animals in southern China.
He also expected that the growing controversy at the zoo would “inevitably increase the flow of visitors, who will be driven by curiosity.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals earlier this week appealed to Japan not to accept the pandas, saying they would be miserable in confinement.
“Pandas are an endangered species, not a commodity to be traded for human amusement,” the US-based rights group said in a letter.