US First Lady Melania Trump hiked the Great Wall and spent some time with a couple of China’s most prominent diplomats in Beijing on Friday: the pandas Meng’er and Gu Gu.
While President Donald Trump jetted off to a summit in Vietnam after his state visit to China, his wife stayed behind to see the Beijing Zoo’s favourite tenants before heading to the Great Wall.
The former model was greeted by a group of schoolchildren who waved Chinese and American flags and led her to the panda enclosure.
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) November 10, 2017
They oohed and aahed as Meng’er crawled on to a platform and began munching bamboo. His name means “Cute No. 2” in Mandarin.
Trump later “interacted privately” with Gu Gu behind-the-scenes, zoo director Li Xiaoguang told reporters.
Born in 1999, Gu Gu is a “good-looking panda with a robust memory,” traits that serve him well as “goodwill ambassador of the zoo”, Li said.
Gu Gu’s name doesn’t have a particular meaning, but the repetition of syllables is generally used in China to make names sound adorable.
Beijing has cultivated a global fascination with pandas as part of its diplomacy by sending the animals to overseas zoos where they have proven a wildly popular draw.
In 2015, former US first lady Michelle Obama and her Chinese counterpart, Peng Liyuan, chose the name for Bei Bei, a panda cub born at the National Zoo in Washington.
Pandas, whose natural habitat lies in mountainous southwestern China, have a notoriously low reproductive rate and are under pressure from factors such as habitat loss.
Trump later visited the Great Wall.
After a short cable car ride, she braved the cold weather to spend about half an hour hiking the refurbished Mutianyu section of the famous fortification.
An official told reporters she had said: “This is beautiful. This is amazing.”
Donald Trump, who wants to build his own massive wall along the US-Mexico border to stem illegal immigration, did not visit the Great Wall, despite it being a usual stop for US presidents.
China treated the Trumps to a lavish state visit with a private tour of the Forbidden City on Wednesday and a banquet dinner on Thursday.
The president wrote on Twitter that his wife would later fly to Alaska to meet with US troops.
The US leader was in Vietnam for an Asia-Pacific summit and he will then head to the Philippines on Sunday for the final leg of his five-nation tour of Asia.