First there was "ping pong diplomacy." Now, 40 years later, China is embarking on a path of "crested ibis diplomacy."
The government of China has decided to present both Japan and South Korea with pairs of crested ibises, an endangered species of bird, highly cherished in both countries.
Agreements are likely to be reached during bilateral summit meetings to be held in Beijing on May 13, sources said.
All crested ibises currently living in Japan and South Korea are descended from ones presented by China.
Japanese and South Korean officials are requesting gifts of individuals that are genetically remote from those in their respective countries today, the sources said, to minimize the risks related to inbreeding.
Beijing apparently hopes to draw on crested ibis diplomacy to deepen ties with Tokyo and Seoul, and to pacify the hard feelings that persist over the Sino-Japanese War, attitudes toward North Korea, sovereignty over the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and other issues.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, crested ibises inhabited broad areas of East Asia, including Japan, China and Korea, but overhunting and deterioration of the environment led to a sharp drop in their numbers.
While the species faced a danger of extinction, seven wild individuals were discovered in 1981 in Yang county in the western Chinese province of Shaanxi. China thereafter succeeded in breeding the birds.
Beijing presented Japan with a pair of crested ibises--Youyou and Yangyang--in 1999 following President Jiang Zemin's visit to Japan the previous year. Three more birds were given in 2000 and 2007 on the occasions of Premier Zhu Rongji and Premier Wen Jiabao's respective visits to Japan on condition that half of their chicks should be returned to China.
Japan used those birds to breed offspring in captivity. Many of these offspring have since been released into the wild.
Japan is now home to more than 200 ibises, including those in captivity and those in the wild. Last month, a crested ibis chick was confirmed to have been born to a released pair on Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, for the first time in the wild.
South Korea has been breeding crested ibises in captivity using a pair presented by China for the first time following a bilateral summit meeting in 2008.
According to the crested ibis restoration center in Changnyeong county, Gyeongsangnam-do province, which is responsible for the breeding program, the pair has borne 14 chicks, which means that South Korea is now home to 16 ibises.
Crested ibises used to winter in different parts of the Korean Peninsula until around 1945, but they later disappeared amid environmental pollution and a food shortage. The species was designated a Natural Monument of South Korea in 1968.
(This article was written by Tetsuya Hakoda in Seoul and Keiko Yoshioka in Beijing.)
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