China said today it will gift Britain a pair of giant pandas as vice premier Li Keqiang marked the second day of his official visit to the UK with the signing of trade deals worth an estimated £2.6 billion.
Tian Tian and Yangguang, a breeding pair born in 2003, are to be housed at Edinburgh Zoo and will be the first pandas in the UK for 17 years.
The announcement of the loan agreement, which will see the animals stay in Scotland for the next 10 years, was the high point so far of a visit which has focused heavily on improving trade links.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who attended the signing ceremony at Lancaster House in London with Mr Li, said it was a sign the two countries could "co-operate closely on a broad range of environmental and cultural issues, as well as commerce".
The Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming said: "Pandas are a Chinese national treasure. This historical agreement is a gift to the people of the UK from China.
"It will represent an important symbol of our friendship and will bring our two people closer together."
Since the coalition came to power in May, Prime Minister David Cameron has made developing trade and investment with China a key priority, leading a trade delegation to Beijing in November.
Mr Clegg said that the agreements signed by British and Chinese companies would safeguard 700 jobs in the UK, with the potential to create many more.
They include a deal between BP and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation on deepwater exploration in the South China Sea, and an agreement to increase Jaguar Land Rover sales to China.
No mention was made of any discussion relating to China's record on human rights, although Mr Clegg insisted before the meeting that no subject would be "off limits".
Inevitably, however, much of the attention focused on the gift of the pandas. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) has been in negotiations with the Chinese about bringing a pair to Edinburgh since 2008.
They will be housed in a specially refurbished enclosure which was formerly home to the zoo's gorillas.
A date has not yet been set for their arrival but a delegation from the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association is due to visit Edinburgh this week to view the zoo and discuss the final arrangements.
RZSS chief executive David Windmill said that it was a "landmark day" for the zoo.
"It represents the beginning of a programme of research, education and partnership and the project has huge benefit for the UK and Scotland, both in supporting giant panda conservation and in enhancing our programmes in education, science and conservation," he said.Reuse content