Two newborn panda cubs at Berlin Zoo have been unexpectedly caught up in Hong Kong’s political unrest, after German newspapers started a campaign to name them “Hong” and “Kong”.
The pair were born on Saturday evening to Meng Meng – a panda on loan from China.
One of Berlin’s leading papers, Der Tagesspiegel, asked its readers to come up with name suggestions.
Top of the poll: “Hong” and “Kong”.
One reader wrote in to say they should be named “in solidarity with a city fighting for survival”.
Other suggested names included “Joshua Wong Chi-fung” and “Agnes Chow Ting” – after two prominent Hong Kong democracy activists.
Loaning pandas to zoos around the world is part of China’s soft diplomacy, aimed at winning hearts and minds abroad.
As the cubs will have to be returned to China in two to four years, the paper suggested that naming them after the activists might even be a sneaky way of keeping them in Germany.
The poll is in no way binding or even related to the zoo – but it was soon picked up by Germany’s leading tabloid, Bild, which issued a passionate call “to politicise” the naming of the little pandas.
“Bild is choosing to call the panda cubs Hong and Kong because it’s China’s brutal politics that lies behind these panda babies,” the paper wrote on Thursday.
“Bild is demanding of the German government that it reacts in a political way to the birth of these small bears.”
As German Chancellor Angela Merkel is currently on a visit to China, Bild said she could even relay the news to President Xi Jinping in person.
Hong Kong activists had already called on Ms Merkel to raise their cause during her talks in Beijing.
In an earlier interview with Bild, activist Joshua Wong had suggested the zoo should name the animals “Freedom” and “Democracy”.
The German media’s foray into panda PR came as Hong Kong’s government launched a series of full-page adverts in international newspapers, designed to reassure investors that the city is still open for business.
The ads, which will run in leading papers around the world, say the government is determined to achieve a “peaceful, rational and reasonable resolution” to present political tensions.