In symbolic gesture of unity, US, Chinese first ladies christen baby panda together

While touring the panda house at Smithsonian's National Zoo Friday, Michelle Obama and her Chinese counterpart, Peng Liyuan announced the name they chose for the five week-old cub.

Erika Bauer/Smithsonian's National Zoo/AP
The baby Giant Panda, born Aug. 22, is seen in Washington as keepers weighed the giant panda cub., Sept. 14. Washington's 4-week-old panda cub is nameless no more. First lady Michelle Obama and her Chinese counterpart Peng Liyuan teamed up at the National Zoo to unveil the little cub's name on Friday.

The suspense is over: the National Zoo’s newest giant panda cub has been named.

While touring the panda house at Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., on Friday, first lady Michelle Obama and her Chinese counterpart, Peng Liyuan, announced the name they settled on: Bei Bei (pronounced “bay bay”), which means “precious treasure.” His older sister’s name is Bao Bao.

The first ladies revealed the name by untying a pair of yellow scrolls that had it written in English and Mandarin Chinese. Panda keepers at a partner conservation center in Wolong, China, submitted Bei Bei as a suggestion.

"Michelle once said that the giant panda exemplifies the common bond between China and the United States," Ms. Peng said through an interpreter, according to the Associated Press. "That's a lot of responsibility for a cute animal like giant pandas."

Before the announcement, the two witnessed the cub getting a medical checkup.

He weighs about three pounds and will turn just five weeks old on Saturday. His mother, Mei Xiang, gave birth to him and a twin sibling in August, but the second cub died four days afterward.

For the first time ever, the zoo now has four pandas. The fourth, Tian Tian, is the father of Bei Bei and Bao Bao. The two adult pandas came to the zoo in 2000.

In 1972, following President Nixon’s historic visit to China, the Asian country gave a pair of giant pandas to the National Zoo. Named Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the two spent the rest of their lives at the zoo. One of the couple’s cubs, Tai Shan, currently lives in China.

Zookeepers have been updating fans via the panda blog, posting developments about how the cubs first weeks are going.

“Zoo keepers have also seen him sleeping with his paw over his eye – which is something both Tian Tian and his big sister Bao Bao do – even though his eyes won’t open until he’s between 6 and 8 weeks old.... Mei Xiang has felt comfortable during the last week leaving him on his own in the den several times a day for short periods. She also started eating more and even ate one of her favorite food items – a pear – over the weekend,” a post from last week read.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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