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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 October 2005, 17:46 GMT 18:46 UK
Trial marriages for Taiwan pandas
Two giant pandas eat bamboo at the China Wolong Giant Pandas Centre, August 2005
All the pandas come from a research centre in Wolong
China has come a step closer to deciding which two giant pandas are to be sent as a gift to Taiwan.

According to China's state media, 11 pandas - six males and five females - have been chosen from an original 23.

The shortlisted animals will be placed in "trial marriages" before the final couple is selected.

China offered to send the pandas to Taiwan to mark a ground-breaking visit by the island's opposition leader Lien Chan in May this year.

Mr Lien was the first leader of the nationalist Kuomintang party to make the trip since the party was driven off the Chinese mainland in 1949 by the Communists.

Mr Lien has since been succeeded as leader of the Kuomintang by Ma Ying-jeou.

Tough selection process

Choosing which pandas to send to Taiwan is a serious diplomatic business.

The process began in August, in the Giant Pandas Research Centre in Wolong, Sichuan province.

Loves to climb trees
Description of Panda 13
A nine-member panel is involved in making the decision, and the successful candidates will be the two which "most closely represent the character of China's 1.3bn population", an official from the centre told the China Daily newspaper.

The eventual winners will be chosen for their looks as well as their "psychological health", the official was quoted as saying. They will also be chosen on the basis of the three-week "trial marriages", panda expert Zhang Hemin told Xinhua news agency.

Each panda's specific attributes have been examined as part of the selection process. For example, panda 13 has been listed as "loves to climb trees".

Despite all this careful selection, the decision as to whether the pandas will actually reach Taiwan is ultimately up to the island's authorities.

The mainland has offered pandas to Taiwan before, but they have been turned down because the island said it did not have the right conditions to look after them properly.

Giant pandas are an endangered species. Only 1,600 are believed to survive in the wild, 1,000 of which are in Sichuan.

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01 May 05 |  Asia-Pacific
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29 Apr 05 |  In Pictures


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