China announced yesterday that it has picked a pair of giant pandas to be offered to Taiwan as a token of peace, a plan seen as aimed at winning over the island's citizens by means of "panda diplomacy."
The Taiwan government, which has not decided whether to accept the animals, accused Beijing of being insensitive by unilaterally announcing the offer without seeking Taiwan's consent.
"It is not suitable to raise giant pandas here [in Taiwan]," Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) said yesterday
The nameless male and female pandas are both one year old, according to Cao Qingyao, a spokesman for China's State Forestry Administration. Speaking at a news conference, Cao said the pandas were to be named in a televised vote on January 28 on suggestions from the Chinese public.
"Under the good care of the Taiwanese compatriots, the giant pandas will surely do well and reproduce," said Zhang Hemin, director of China's main panda breeding center, as quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency.
Beijing offered the pandas to Taiwan last May after two Taiwanese opposition leaders, former Kuomintang chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), made the highest-level visits to China since the two sides split in 1949.
Lien, now honorary chairman of the KMT, yesterday also released a statement of welcome and appreciation at China's goodwill in offering the pandas.
Lien said that the colors of the panda are black and white, not blue and green, and he urged the Taiwan government not to deal with the matter from a political perspective.
The import of the pandas could facilitate harmonious cross-strait relations, but unreasonable objections by the government may scuttle an opportunity to foster peaceful exchanges between the two sides, the statement added.
Lien said that he would be willing to help to persuade experts from the mainland to visit Taiwan to exchange views with local zoologists so that the pandas could be sent to Taiwan as soon as possible and bring joy to the Taiwan people.
Meanwhile, Taiwanese officials remained lukewarm to China's announcement.
"It seems that they are insisting on sending the pandas to us, and we have no choice but to accept them," said Mainland Affairs Council Chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮). "It shows gross disrespect for us."
Wu criticized China as being insensitive
Beijing selects pandas; Taiwan remains hesitant over offer and indifferent, as evidenced by its unilateral decision to send the two pandas while the matter is still under discussion in Taiwan. He further referred to the offer as a "unification strategy" by China.
The Taipei Zoo and the Leofoo Village amusement park in the northern town of Kuanhsi have both applied to the government for the right to house the animals and the Council of Agriculture has said that it will decide on the applications by March 23.
Experts are still discussing whether Taiwan can properly raise the pandas, Wu said.
Noting that the COA will be the body making the final decision on the panda issue, Wu reiterated, however, that several criteria should first be considered.
"We have to see whether the applicants are qualified to host the animals, whether the would-be host zoo has adequate manpower and facilities to provide good living conditions and medical care, whether the import of the pandas complies with current laws and regulations stipulated by international wildlife conservation organizations, and we have to consider the opinions of international wildlife conservation organizations on whether Taiwan is suitable to host this endangered species," he noted.
Giant pandas are among the world's rarest animals and a potent public relations asset for Beijing.
"We hope the pair of pandas can be introduced to the Taiwan compatriots as soon as possible and that the Taiwan authorities will follow the wishes of the people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, providing active cooperation on this issue," said Dai Xiaofeng, a spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office.
But Taiwan's COA said the animals cannot be brought to the island without the council's approval.
"As long as the COA has not issued a license on the basis of animal protection laws, China cannot unilaterally announce it is sending the pandas to Taiwan," said council official Li Tao-sheng.
Taiwan's pro-independence opposition Taiwan Solidarity Union yesterday lashed out at the offer and said that the pandas do not represent China's goodwill.
"If China wants to show its goodwill, it should remove the some 700 missiles aimed at Taiwan across the strait," said TSU Secretary-General Lo Chih-ming (羅志明).
The pair of pandas intended for Taiwan was picked from among a group of 11 animals at the Wolong Nature Reserve in the southwestern province of Sichuan, according to the Chinese government.
The Chinese government says there are an estimated 1,590 pandas left in the wild in China and 183 in mainland zoos and breeding centers.
Under the multilateral Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, pandas can only be lent by China to other countries and all the net profits from the exhibition of giant pandas should be used for the conservation of the species in China. The conservation fee paid to China by each country is up to US$1 million a year.