Newborn baby panda attracts attention from both sides of the Taiwan Strait
A baby panda, born to parents Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, has re-ignited talks of "Panda Diplomacy" between the mainland and Taiwan
A newly-born panda cub has been drawing attention on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, and many online observers have pointed out that it is one of the first pandas born outside the mainland to be allowed to remain in its birthplace.
The female cub was nicknamed “Yuan Zai” by nurses, who remarked that it looked like a yuan zai glutinous rice ball. It was born in Taipei Zoo on July 6. Zoo officials said on Sunday that the cub had a good appetite and was growing each day, currently weighing a healthy 243.4 grams. It is still in an incubator and will remain secluded from the public for six months.
Taipei Zoo’s official Youtube channel is regularly updated with footage of the tiny pink cub resting in an incubator and drinking milk, and the videos have been a regular sight on Taiwanese television for the last week.
“It’s too cute,” one netizen wrote on China’s Sina Weibo, where the general sentiment was that the cub looked more like a little mouse than a panda.
Yuan Zai – who will receive an official name in the upcoming months – is the result of four years of artificial insemination attempts between Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, two Sichuan pandas that were gifted to Taiwan in 2008. Unlike other panda newborns, who are expected to be returned to the mainland if they are born abroad, Yuan Zai is allowed to grow up in Taipei Zoo, a move that some see as part of a mainland China plan to push for cross-strait unification.
Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan’s names, when put together, form the word “Tuan Yuan”, which means “reunion”.
Internet commentators on a Wall Street Journal article about the cub pointed out that since the Chinese Communist Party officially considers Taiwan a part of China, having Yuan Zai return to the mainland would be counterintuitive. Others said this was “panda diplomacy” - referring to mainland China loaning its pandas to zoos abroad in order to improve international relations, a strategy that has existed since the cold war era.
“They said Taiwan is a part of China so the little critter can stay in China,” one commentator wrote. “[But] how about missile diplomacy by China? The mainland points over 2,000 offensive missiles at Taiwan. So somehow, China pointing ‘offensive missiles’ at China tells a different story about Taiwan being a part of mainland China, doesn’t it?”
Others argued that the pandas were a sign of peace, and that cross-strait reunification should be seen as a positive phenomenon.
“I hope that Yuan Yuan will give birth to many panda babies,” wrote a Weibo user. “And that one day these babies can form a bridge across the Taiwan Strait, helping both sides become closer.”
Although it has its own governing body, the island of Taiwan is formerly recognised as a province by the mainland. Relations between mainland China and Taiwan have improved in the past five years, partly due to negotiations encouraged by Taiwan’s ruling Kuomingtang government, led by President Ma Ying-jeou. Opposition parties and proponents for Taiwanese Independence criticised President Ma in 2008 for accepting Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan as a gift from China, arguing that the mainland would use the pandas to advance its unification agendas. Ma’s party rejected these claims, which have been re-ignited now that the two pandas have borne a cub.
“Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan’s cub will definitely be named ‘Tuan Yuan’ when the time comes,” one online netizen wrote.