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Lin Ping, Panda On Reality Show, At Center Of Deal Between Thailand And China

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In this photo taken May 2, 2013, Lin Ping, a four-year-old Panda chews bamboo at Chiang Mai zoo in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand | AP

BANGKOK -- Thailand's celebrity baby panda Lin Ping is almost 4 years old now. It's time to move to China, find a mate and have cubs.

The move won't be permanent, however, thanks to a deal hammered out between the two countries that will cost Thailand $1 million a year, the Thai foreign minister said Friday.

Once the star of a Thai reality show, the panda's future has been a topic of high-level negotiation for months. Last year, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra asked then-Chinese premier Wen Jiabao to consider extending the panda's loan contract which ends on its 4th birthday, May 27.

A breakthrough was announced Friday, when the Chinese Embassy informed Thai authorities that Lin Ping can stay in Thailand until October, said Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul. Lin Ping will then relocate to China, where authorities will find her a male partner, and the two will be allowed to return to Thailand to mate, he said.

"Normally every baby panda born overseas must return to China to breed," Surapong said, but the Chinese made an exception due to close bilateral ties with Thailand.

Lin Ping was born in Thailand's Chiang Mai Zoo to two adult pandas that were on loan from China. Her birth was front-page news in Thailand and the panda family starred in a much-loved but lethargic reality show that broadcast live from the pandas' zoo habitat for almost three years.

China has not set a date for Lin Ping's return to Thailand but will try to ensure it is within a year, Surapong said. She will be allowed to remain in Thailand for up to 15 years, at a cost of $1 million per year, said Surapong.

"The new fee is four times higher," he said. The old contract called for a $250,000 panda loan fee. "But (we) can accept that."

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