Chinese president promises pandas to Finland on state visit

HELSINKI (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday agreed to send a pair of pandas to Finland, the latest installment of his country's "panda diplomacy" that makes use of one of China's cutest natural assets to gain international concessions.

After talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, the two countries signed protocols, including finalizing an agreement on panda protection as well as sending the pandas to a Finnish nature reserve. Officials have been talking about conditions for sending pandas to Finland since December 2014.

Ahtari Zoo nature reserve said the animals will be loaned for 15 years and are expected to arrive by the end of the year. It said it has also signed an agreement on the research and protection of giant pandas with Chinese panda protection officials.

Niinisto said he was grateful to China for the pandas.

"I would like to thank President Xi for the trust you have extended to Finland over the protection of pandas," Niinisto said. "We know that pandas are a national treasure of China and we shall respect and we value that."

Officials also signed agreements on environmental and judicial cooperation.

The two-day state visit by Xi, accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan, is the second-ever visit to Finland by a Chinese leader. Xi on Thursday will head to Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials.

Niinisto hosted welcoming ceremonies at the presidential palace in downtown Helsinki.

On arrival, Xi noted that Finland opened political ties with China in 1950 and was the first Western country to sign a governmental bilateral trade agreement with Beijing. He also congratulated the Finns on the centenary of their independence from Russia.

During his visit, Xi will also meet Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila and Speaker of Parliament Maria Lohela.

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