China's goodwill giant pandas arrive in Taiwan

Tue Dec 23, 2008 1:54pm EST
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By Ralph Jennings

TAIPEI (Reuters) - A pair of giant pandas from China's fog-shrouded mountains reached an excited but wary Taiwan on Tuesday, a symbol of improved relations between the longtime political rivals who once stood at the brink of war.

Panda-decorated baggage trucks drove out to collect the crates carrying Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan from the cargo hold of a jumbo jet that landed at north Taiwan's major airport.

After arriving at the Taipei city zoo in a truck with police escorts, the pandas, whose names said together mean "unite," were taken to a T$300 million ($9.24 million) hillside complex where they should attract huge crowds after a month in quarantine.

"Pandas are a diplomatic tool to win over a place's public and make them think China is a friendly country," said George Hou, a mass communications lecturer at I-Shou University in Taiwan.

"But the average child who doesn't know this background will just ask whether they're cute or not."

Giving away pandas is seen as China's most popular use of soft power toward Taiwan since 2005, when it began making offers instead of military threats to impress the self-ruled island that Beijing considers its own.

China has claimed Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. It has vowed to bring the island under its rule, by force if necessary, but ties have improved since China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May.

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

<p>Tuan Tuan, one of two pandas selected as a gift for Taiwan, is put into a cage as it leaves a giant panda centre in Ya'an, Sichuan province December 23, 2008. A pair of giant pandas, Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, left their base in the mountainous southern Chinese province of Sichuan on Tuesday en route for Taiwan, a goodwill gift from Beijing and the latest sign of improving ties. REUTERS/China Daily</p>