Goodwill pandas quick to feel at home after landing in Taiwan

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 December, 2008, 12:00am

With the arrival of two long-awaited pandas from the mainland yesterday, cross-strait ties became even warmer.

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, whose names together mean 'unification', arrived in Taiwan after a 10-hour journey that began in the morning from their original enclosure in Yaan , Sichuan .

As soon as the giant pandas were offloaded from an Eva Air Boeing 747-400 chartered jet, they were whisked to Taipei Zoo, where they will rest in an enclosure for a month-long quarantine before they go on public display.

Police imposed traffic controls to clear the way for the pandas, the mainland's goodwill ambassadors to the island.

The zoo, which has built a NT$300 million (HK$69 million) three-storey 'panda house' for the pair, will hold a ceremony today to officially welcome the pandas and introduce them to the public.

It was a tearful farewell for the pandas' keepers and about 1,000 local residents before they left their reserve base in Yaan.

'Tuan Tuan, Yuan Yuan, you have to take care of yourselves when you are in the new environment there,' said a teary Qu Chunmao , the pandas' keeper for the past six months.

Mainland authorities also held a ceremony to bid farewell at Chengdu airport. 'The pandas take the blessing of 1.3 billion mainland people to Taiwan and will sow the seeds of peace, unity and fraternal love there,' said Zheng Lizhong , deputy director of the Taiwan Affairs Office under the State Council.

Offered to the island as a goodwill gift from President Hu Jintao in May 2005, the two bears finally arrived because of the mainland engagement policy of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.

Mr Ma's pro-independence predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, refused the gift, especially when the two were named Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan by the mainland to signify eventual cross-strait unification.

In a bid to play down the political impact of the gift, Mr Ma, who accepted the pandas in an attempt to capitalise on the warming ties, did not show up at Taiwan's international airport to welcome the bears, as some Hong Kong news reports had predicted.

Presidential spokesman Wang Yu-chi said Mr Ma had never planned to do so.

But the pro-independence camp played up the reports, accusing Mr Ma of appeasing the mainland.

'[The reports] prove that the worries of the public are right - that Ma Ying-jeou will sell out Taiwan to China eventually,' said Lai Ching-te, a legislator from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party.

'He even wanted to go to the airport to personally welcome the pandas that mean unification.'

DPP spokesman Cheng Wen-tsan called the pandas a 'charm offensive' to woo the Taiwanese.

But legislators from the ruling Kuomintang responded that it was absurd for the DPP to treat the pandas as an enemy.

Long history

Panda diplomacy is nothing new for China, according to Taipei Zoo

It says Tang dynasty empress Wu Zetian sent a pair of pandas to the Japanese emperor Temmu in AD: 685


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