Two giant pandas have a new home in Berlin, the latest stop for China’s ‘panda diplomacy’

One of the two Chinese panda bears is munching while German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping visit their compound during a welcome ceremony at the zoo in Berlin, Germany on July 5.

Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed Wednesday to make China's new "special envoys" feel welcome in Berlin. She was, of course, talking about two giant pandas.

"I think that this event today is a symbol of the relationship between our two countries," said Merkel at the Berlin Zoo alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping. She was introducing pandas Meng Meng and Jiao Qing to the public.

"Everything will be done to make sure that they feel comfortable here" in their new home, she said.

"Many friends of the zoo have been gripped by panda fever" since it was confirmed that China would send the rare black and white bears to Berlin, she noted.

Famed for its "panda diplomacy," China has dispatched its national treasure to only about a dozen countries as a symbol of close relations.

Export giants Germany and China have nurtured increasingly close economic ties, and over the last year the have also taken on the leading role in championing free trade as Donald Trump shifts the US away from market liberalization with his "America First" push.

China has previously given three pandas to Germany, but the last one, 34-year-old Bao Bao, died in Berlin in 2012, having become the oldest male panda in the world.

Related: Watch these pandas have some fun

The zoo will pay $15 million (13.4 million euros) for a 15-year contract to host the pair, with most of the money going towards a conservation and breeding research program in China.

Xi noted that the last three pandas who lived in Berlin's main zoo "gave the German people a lot of joy and left happy memories."

"I hope that this new pair of pandas will not only quickly settle in, but also produce a child to bring Berliners good fortune and happiness," he said.

Related: The very high price of pandas

But the Chinese leader also underlined the main task conferred on the two cuddly bears: "I hope that Meng Meng and Jiao Qing can bring the two countries closer, and become the new ambassadors of the friendship between the two people."

Meanwhile, outside the panda welcome event in Berlin, some demonstrators held signs calling for Germany to press China on human rights issues. One sign called for the release of political prisoners Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Prize winner, and his wife Liu Xia.

Reuters Pictures contributed reporting to this story.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.