Page last updated at 09:33 GMT, Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Chinese pandas arrive in Taiwan


The pandas arrive in Taiwan

Two giant pandas have arrived in Taiwan from China, a gift from Beijing to a self-governing island it considers part of Chinese territory.

Together their names (Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan) mean reunion, underscoring hopes that their arrival in Taiwan will spur unity between the two sides.

But the gesture is not welcomed by everyone in Taiwan.

The pandas were first offered three years ago, but were rejected by the president at the time.

Chinese soldier watches over two pandas due to be relocated to Taiwan on Tuesday in a gesture of warming ties
The security around the pandas reflects the sensitivity of the issue

That decision was reversed after Taiwan's nationalists - the Kuomintang - won the presidency in May.

Since then, diplomatic and economic links have improved. Last week daily passenger flights, new shipping routes and postal links between the two sides were established for the first time in six decades.

Steamed buns

Hundreds of security guards and armed police were on watch at Shuangliu airport in Chengdu, Sichuan province, ahead of Tuesday's operation to move the pandas, reports the BBC's Chris Hogg in Beijing.

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan means a union, which perfectly matches Beijing's goal of bringing Taiwan into its fold
Democratic Progressive Party

A 20-strong team of animal experts had been in the region for 10 days to prepare for the bears' relocation - and they took special steamed corn buns, fresh bamboo and even motion sickness pills for the pandas for their trip.

On arrival, they will be quarantined for a month before being taken to their new glass and rock enclosure in Taipei zoo, where they are expected to attract about 30,000 visitors a day.

Military threat

Despite the publicity surrounding China's gesture, some in Taiwan caution that its significance should not be overstated, our correspondent says.

Cargo workers get ready to load the cages containing two giant panda, Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, named together after ""reunion," on to a aircraft in Chengdu
The pandas were given steamed buns and fresh bamboo for their journey

The island's President Ma Ying-jeou recently called again on the mainland to withdraw hundreds of missiles that are pointing at Taiwan.

For many Taiwanese the pandas are a nice gesture, but one that fails to address their main concern - the military threat from their more powerful neighbour.

Taiwan's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party criticised the panda deal.

"Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan means a union, which perfectly matches Beijing's goal of bringing Taiwan into its fold," it said.

China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, but China claims sovereignty over Taiwan.

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