Panda diplomacy: China's goodwill gift to Taiwan

Mon Dec 22, 2008 4:18am EST
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CHENGDU, China (Reuters) - A Taiwanese plane arrived in the Chinese city of Chengdu on Monday to pick up a pair of giant pandas, a goodwill gift from Beijing and the latest sign of improving ties between the political rivals.

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, whose names said together mean "unite," will be flown to Taiwan on Tuesday with steamed corn buns and fresh bamboo in their luggage and a standby supply of air-sickness pills.

China had offered the pandas as a goodwill gift in 2006 as part of a charm offensive after decades of saber rattling. Taiwan's then anti-China president declined the gift.

Beijing has given pandas to nine countries, including Japan, North Korea, the United States and the former Soviet Union, since 1957.

China-Taiwan ties have improved vastly in recent months after the election of China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.

"It's clearly part of the longer rapprochement, a nice symbol," Brad Glosserman, executive director of the U.S.-based think tank Pacific Forum CSIS, said of the pandas.

Last week Taiwan and China launched direct daily passenger flights, new shipping routes and postal links for the first time in six decades. China has also offered Taiwan investors on the mainland $19 billion in financing over the next three years amid the global economic downturn.

But many Taiwan citizens would prefer China remove missiles aimed at the island and let it join international organizations such as the United Nations instead of offering money or animals, experts say.

"It's not a milestone, not a breakthrough, just a continuation," said Lin Chong-pin, a strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan.   Continued...

<p>Two giant pandas named Tuan Tuan (back) and Yuan Yuan, whose names when said together means unite in Chinese, are seen at a giant panda centre in Ya'an, Sichuan province, December 22, 2008. REUTERS/China Daily</p>