Melania Trump engages in panda diplomacy at Beijing zoo

Melania Trump spent time with a couple of China’s most prominent diplomats on her last day 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, the first lady stayed behind to see the Beijing zoo’s favourite tenants before heading to the Great Wall later in the day.

She stopped in a Ming dynasty watchtower and admired the view. “This is beautiful. This is amazing,” she said.

Earlier, the former model greeted a group of schoolchildren waving miniature Chinese and American flags, handing out stuffed toy bald eagles after watching the children sing a Chinese folksong at the panda enclosure.

Trump then signed a panda print, writing: “Thank you to the Beijing Zoo! Wonderful to meet Gu Gu! Melania Trump”.

Trump later “interacted privately” with Gu Gu behind the scenes, the zoo’s 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.

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 popular draw.

Later in the afternoon, Melania Trump walked along part of the Mutianyu section of the more than 12,400-mile (20,000km) long Great Wall, a Unesco world heritage site where China frequently takes visiting heads of state and their spouses.

As with previous first ladies, Trump has used her platform to champion public causes, such as the prevention of childhood bullying and combating the opioid epidemic in the US.

Playing a prominent supporting role on the president’s multi-leg Asia visit, she won praise on Chinese social media, with comparisons to China’s first lady, Peng Liyuan, during their visit to the Forbidden City in Beijing on Wednesday.

Accompanied by Peng, Melania Trump watched a cultural performance, painted pandas and participated in a cooking class at a primary school on Thursday.

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