Signalling new ties, China sends two giant pandas to Taiwan

December 23rd, 2008 - 9:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Taipei/Beijing, Dec 23 (DPA) Two giant pandas given by China to Taiwan arrived in Taipei Tuesday amid huge public interest in the latest sign of improving ties between the two political rivals.The pandas, named Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, arrived on board a chartered EVA Air jet, following a three-hour flight from a panda reserve in China’s Sichuan province.

With police cars leading the way, trucks carrying the pandas rushed to the Taipei Zoo where the animals will remain in quarantine for one month before making their debut in the Panda House.

The Taipei Zoo has opened a website to introduce the public to the animals and to seek donations for their upkeep and research on pandas.

Zoo spokesman Chin Shih-chien said the two pandas were expected to increase the number of visitors to the Taipei Zoo by one million within the first year of their arrival.

“We hope they can get used to the climate in Taiwan and give birth to offspring at the Taipei Zoo,” he told reporters.

Early Friday, China held a grand ceremony to see off the pandas at Shuangliu Airport in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.

“Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan carry the good wishes of 1.3 billion mainland compatriots and will spread the seeds of peace, unity and fraternity on Taiwan’s soil,” Zheng Lizhong, the vice head of the ruling Communist Party’s Taiwan Work Office, said at the ceremony.

The two pandas, whose names together mean “reunion,” were given a breakfast of carrots and steamed corn buns at their breeding centre before they were caged and put on a truck bound for the airport.

Taiwan sent a 50-member delegation - including officials, animal caretakers and reporters - to welcome Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan.

The pandas triggered “Pandamania” across Taiwan with the media covering every detail of the lives of the pandas and companies launching panda-related toys.

Several Taipei hotels are offering “panda packages” which include a one-night stay in a room decorated with bamboo and two giant panda dolls, and tickets to the Taipei Zoo to see the pandas.

More than 180 giant pandas live in captivity around the world, and about 1,590 remain in the wild, mostly in the mountains of Sichuan, according to Chinese government statistics.

The animals are threatened by loss of habitat, poaching and a low reproduction rate.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Beijing has sent dozens of pandas - normally two at a time - to other nations, a policy dubbed “panda diplomacy”.

Chinese President Hu Jintao offered two pandas to Taiwan in 2005 as a symbol of friendship, but the offer was turned down by the government of former president Chen Shui-bian.

President Ma Ying-jeou accepted the latest offer, choosing to ignore the pandas’ highly political names, which Taiwan critics believe hint at reunification between China and Taiwan, as Taiwan still rejects unification.

“Improved cross-strait ties make their journey to Taiwan possible,” the China Daily newspaper said Tuesday.

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