June 4, 2008 / 10:46 AM / 12 years ago

Taiwan says time running out on China panda offer

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Two giant pandas offered by Beijing in a goodwill gesture to Taiwan have grown almost too old for relocation after a series of snubs by the island’s anti-China former president, pressing the two sides to seek emergency talks.

Taiwan, ruled since May 20 by a China-friendly president, hopes to get the two pandas by October, after which they would adapt poorly to a move from their home in a nature reserve in southwestern China, said Chang Jung-kung, China affairs director with the Nationalist Party (KMT).

Beijing first offered the male-female panda pair, whose names said together mean “unite,” as a gift in 2006, to push its agenda of unification with Taiwan. Former President Chen Shui-bian, who wanted more distance from China, rejected the bears.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

“The pandas will turn four (years old) this October, and the government should consider how it should solve this problem before October,” Chang told Reuters in an interview. “I’d predict that in the coming two or three months the two sides will have a chance to discuss this problem.”

Since President Ma Ying-jeou, of the China-friendly KMT, took office and said he would not pursue formal independence for Taiwan, the two sides have moved toward detente.

Beijing has indicated its first panda offer to Taiwan stands despite previous rejections.

About 1,000 of the endangered black-and-white bears live in the wild bamboo forests of central and western China.

China has given its symbolic animals to nine countries, including Japan, North Korea, the United States and the former Soviet Union, since 1957, Chinese media say.

China would send a team to Taiwan to pick the most suitable zoo or park for the animals amid fierce local competition to show them to an eager public, Chang added.

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