Giant Panda, Mei Xiang, plays with son, 7 month old Tai Shan, in 2006, at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington. (File Photo/ CFP)
Giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who were supposed to return to China at the end of last year, will spend five more years in the US.
The move was a powerful gesture China deployed from its diplomatic trove during President Hu Jintao's visit on Wednesday (Jan 19).
An agreement will be inked Thursday at the National Zoo allowing giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian to stay in the US capital until 2015, Zang Chunlin, secretary general of the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) said.
Due to the fondness of the American people towards the pair of giant pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, China agreed to let them stay for five more years of cooperative research at the Smithsonian National Zoo of cooperative research, starting December 2010 to December 2015."
The two pandas came to the United States in 2000 on a 10-year loan agreement, under which they were supposed to head home last year.
But Americans became very attached to the panda couple, especially after Mei Xiang gave birth in 2005 at the Washington zoo to a cub, who was given the name Tai Shan by his doting US fans.
Under China's panda loan agreements with the United States and other countries, cubs born during their parents' stay abroad are Chinese property and must be returned to China.
Tai Shan's return to China was twice delayed, and he finally returned to China in February last year, to the chagrin of many of his US fans.