Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Monday, 9 January 2006

Taiwan 'unlikely' to want pandas

By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Hong Kong

Two giant pandas eat bamboo at the China Wolong Giant Pandas Centre, August 2005
The pandas on offer come from a research centre in Wolong

Taiwan's prime minister has said the island is unlikely to accept two giant pandas offered by China, because the gift could undermine its sovereignty.

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that should be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Beijing says the pandas, which were promised to Taiwan following the visit of a prominent Taiwanese opposition politician, are now ready for delivery.

But the island's government sees the offer as something more sinister.

China offered the two giant pandas in May last year. One is a male, who is known as Little Darling, the other a female called Little Girl.

There has been much coverage in both China and Taiwan of the selection of the two animals, from a group of 23.

Panda politics

Beijing says the pandas are now ready to be shipped to Taipei, but the problem is politics.

As the Chinese believe Taiwan is part of China, they say the transfer of the pandas does not fall under the control of the convention on international trade in endangered species.

They argue it would not be an international transfer.

Taiwan, of course, disagrees. It refuses to accept that this would be a domestic transfer. If it agreed that it was, that would imply that it accepts China's view of its status.

The island's prime minister, Frank Hsieh, says Taiwan cannot compromise its sovereignty and points out that China could not possibly agree to recognise Taiwan as an importing country - concluding that the likelihood of the pandas going to Taiwan is pretty low.

The Taiwanese government suspects this is a new form of so-called "panda diplomacy" - a phenomenon first seen in the 1960s and 70s.

Taiwan has no giant pandas of its own, and the prospect of a transfer from China has pleased many of the public.

If government officials are seen to be blocking the transfer for political reasons, that could hurt their popularity and boost support for the more pro-China Taiwanese opposition.

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