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The Art Of Panda Diplomacy, First Lady-Style

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Turning now from politicians who are among Washington's least popular residents, today, we got an update on one of D.C.'s most popular residents. First Lady Michelle Obama and her Chinese counterpart went to the National Zoo to unveil the big news. NPR's Will Huntsberry tells us what it's all about.

WILL HUNTSBERRY, BYLINE: Pandas - perhaps the greatest diplomatic currency of them all. Michelle Obama and Madam Peng Liyuan were ushered in, first to meet a group of third-graders from a Chinese-language immersion school.

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UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in Mandarin).

HUNTSBERRY: That's "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" in Mandarin. Mrs. Obama was into it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHELLE OBAMA: Very good rhythm, too.

HUNTSBERRY: She and Madam Peng came to name the baby panda born 33 days ago. Bei Bei is a boy. His name means precious treasure, and he's the newest addition to a four-member panda family at the National Zoo. As cute as he is, Bei Bei represents something much deeper between the U.S. and China. As Michelle Obama said...

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OBAMA: ...We get to strengthen the connections between all of the people in our two countries.

HUNTSBERRY: It's not the first time a first lady has welcomed a panda to the National Zoo. First Lady Pat Nixon had that honor in 1972 when a diplomatic relationship first opened between the two countries.

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PAT NIXON: I think pandemonium is going to break out right here at the zoo.

(LAUGHTER)

HUNTSBERRY: The newest cub, Bei Bei, is 3 pounds and healthy according to his doctor. But you might wonder what they called him for the 33 days before he had a name.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: That would be Fuzzy J.

HUNTSBERRY: Bei Bei, or Fuzzy J, if you prefer, is the newest and the cuddliest link between the world's two largest economies, which are now more interdependent than ever. Will Huntsberry, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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