- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

BEIJING — China said yesterday it has picked a pair of pandas to offer to rival Taiwan as part of efforts to boost public support for uniting with the communist mainland. Taiwan, however, accused Beijing of acting rudely by announcing the gift without consulting the island.

The male and female pandas are both 1 year old, said Cao Qingyao, a spokesman for the State Forestry Administration. They are to be named later this month in televised vote on suggestions from the Chinese public, he said at a press conference.

“Under the good care of the Taiwanese compatriots, the giant pandas will surely do well and have descendants,” Zhang Hemin, director of China’s main panda-breeding center, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.

Beijing announced the offer in May when two Taiwanese opposition leaders visited the mainland in the island’s highest-level trip since the two sides split in 1949 amid civil war. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to invade the island if it formally declares independence.

Pandas are among the world’s rarest animals and a potent public-relations asset for Beijing.

But Taiwanese officials reacted coolly to the Chinese announcement, complaining that Beijing was trying to push the island into accepting the pandas.

“It shows severe disrespect to us,” said Joseph Wu, the Cabinet official in charge of relations with the mainland.

Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture said the pandas can’t be brought to the island without its approval. It said it will decide by March 23.

Beijing has been trying to isolate Taiwan’s independence-leaning President Chen Shui-bian, forging ties with his political rivals and wooing farmers and other voters by offering concessions such as tariff cuts on imported Taiwanese fruit.

Mr. Chen has come under increasing public pressure to reconcile with China since his party overwhelmingly lost Dec. 3 municipal elections to the opposition Nationalist Party, which favors eventual unification with the mainland.

Beijing also is lobbying Taiwan to drop its ban on direct air and shipping links between the two sides. Taipei has been reluctant to do so for fear of domination by its giant neighbor.

The two sides have approved charter flights to carry home Taiwanese living on the mainland for the Lunar New Year this month. But the airlines have to fly through Hong Kong airspace in order to ease Taiwanese security concerns.

Despite the political tension, trade has boomed between the two sides with Taiwanese businesses having poured more than $100 billion into the mainland.

The panda pair intended for Taiwan were picked from 11 animals at the Wolong Nature Reserve in the southwestern province of Sichuan, the government said.

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