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Sun. Apr 21st, 2024

Thousands of admirers congregated on Wednesday to bid adieu to Fu Bao, the first giant panda born in South Korea, as she embarked on her journey to China. Departing in a sophisticated non-vibrating vehicle typically utilized for semiconductor transportation, Fu Bao’s relocation marks the end of an era for South Korean enthusiasts. This gesture underscores the enduring practice of “panda diplomacy,” a strategic tool wielded by Beijing to cultivate soft power.

Gifted to South Korea in 2016 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, Fu Bao, whose name translates to “treasure that gives happiness,” achieved celebrity status in her homeland. Captivating audiences with her antics, her videos on the zoo’s YouTube channel amassed a staggering 500 million views. Her residence at the Everland amusement park became a pilgrimage site, with approximately 5.5 million individuals, roughly one-tenth of the South Korean populace, making the journey to catch a glimpse of her.

Fu Bao’s popularity proved to be a boon for Everland’s Panda World, with visitor numbers doubling last year to 2.15 million. The birth of her younger twin sisters, Rui Bao and Hui Bao, further fueled excitement across South Korea, reinforcing the nation’s fascination with these gentle creatures. However, in adherence to the agreement between Seoul and Beijing, Fu Bao and her siblings are obligated to return to China before reaching the age of four.

Amidst tearful farewells, Fu Bao departed Everland, escorted by Zookeeper Kang Cheol-won, affectionately known as the pandas’ “grandpa.” Kang, renowned for his special bond with the pandas, delivered a heartfelt letter during the ceremony, expressing his enduring affection for Fu Bao. As the panda embarks on her new chapter at China’s Shenshuping Panda Base in Sichuan Province, her legacy as South Korea’s beloved panda endures, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of her admirers.

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