China’s Christmas Panda Diplomacy Reaches Taiwan

Posted by: Dexter Roberts on December 24, 2008

It’s the latest goodwill gesture to emanate across the Taiwan Straits. Beijing on Dec. 23—let us call it an early Christmas present—sent two of its rare giant pandas on a direct flight to Taipei, Taiwan. The two pandas—Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan (their names together mean “united,” no doubt intended to refer to Beijing’s long-held desire to bring Taiwan back into its fold)—left their former home in the mountainous and earthquake-prone province of Sichuan via airplane, for their new abode in the Taipei Zoo.

“The pandas take 1.3 billion of mainland people’s blessing to Taiwan and will sow the seeds of peace, unity and fraternal love there,” said Zheng Lizhong, the deputy chief of the Taiwan Affairs Office in a farewell ceremony. Given the sometimes hostile nature of relations between the two sides, including the fact that China still points hundreds of missiles at the island, Zheng’s words may seem a trifle overblown. And certainly that’s a lot of weight to put on the furry shoulders of a couple of bamboo-chewing, roly-poly big mammals.

Nevertheless, the reality is that relations between the former foes have already improved vastly. The latest rapprochement began after pro-China Kuomintang President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May earlier this year, replacing former President Chen Shui-bian, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party. One of the most recent signs of warming was the resumption of direct air, shipping and postal links on Dec. 15 after an almost 60-year-hiatus.

That was closely followed by agreements to allow more financial contacts, agreed upon at a weekend meeting between senior officials from China’s Communist Party and Taiwan’s KMT on Dec. 20-21. Those include considering allowing Taiwan’s banks and securities houses to upgrade their mainland representative offices to branches, thus better serving the businesses run by some 750,000 Taiwanese in China. Beijing too agreed to offer $19 billion in financing to Taiwanese companies operating on the mainland over the next few years.

China has a long history of using its pandas to highlight improving diplomatic relations, purportedly dating back to the Tang Dynasty. Since the 1950s it has given pandas to nine countries including Japan, U.S. North Korea, and former Soviet Union. But panda diplomacy has not always been welcomed. Taiwan refused an earlier offer of pandas a few years ago when the less China-friendly DPP government was in charge.

Reader Comments

mongmei

December 24, 2008 3:44 PM

When the unemployment rate in Taiwan is soaring, and many Taiwanese companies are demanding employees to take ‘unpaid holidays’, most Taiwanese are not interested in Pandas. What upset Taiwanese people most is that during this hard time, Ma Ying-Jeou’s government is willing to commit more than 10 million Taiwanese Dollars to take care of these two propaganda pandas, than Taiwanese people. This clearly shows Ma Ying-Jeou’s priority. Furthermore, international law prohibits pandas travel abroad. By accepting these two pandas, Ma Ying-Jeou traded off Taiwan’s sovereignty. Taiwanese will never forgive Ma’s behaviour.

Dan

December 24, 2008 10:20 PM

Mongmel,

Spending 10 million Taiwanese dollars to cultivate economic ties is in the long term interest of Taiwanese survival.

Dan

December 24, 2008 10:21 PM

Mongmel,

Spending 10 million Taiwanese dollars to cultivate economic ties is in the long term interest of Taiwanese survival.

Carl

December 24, 2008 11:11 PM

I totally agree with Dan. With current Chinese political condition, I am against political reunification with China. However, I think closer business trade with China without political influence will good for people of Taiwan. The matter of the fact is that China does not need Taiwan to prosper. Taiwan does not need China either, but it can't prosper in the long run if the Taiwanese people don't trade with China. Time is changing and it favors China. With its largest consumers in the world, China is going to be a economic powerhouse, as US now. There is no doubt about it. It would be a shame not to use the advantage of ancestral tie with China to establish base there. Besides, even if it does not work out with China, having strong business present in China will somehow influent the political thinking, too. Case in point, because of current world economy, many foreign own factories and business collapse. There are sporadic news of unemployed workers riots in several province. The number one job of Communist party is to maintain social stability. High unemployed rate is going to affect that stability. Now imagine Taiwanese businesses have very strong present in China, it means that every decisions Taiwanese businesses make will affect tens of thousands of workers' lives, which will have indirect influence on Chinese political thinking, too. By continue the policy of making business with China difficult and refuse any communication on political level, it is going to trivialize Taiwanese, making Taiwan insignificant in the future.

nhhm

December 24, 2008 11:12 PM

1. Panda's rental is very high in other places, but the two pandas' rental is needless in Taiwan.

2. They can promote Taiwan's tourism, if every tourist spend a more day in Taipei zoo, it will be a huge benefit.

Somebody still view problems via ideology.

Lee Teng Hui

December 24, 2008 11:16 PM

Mong Mei,

Whinning at Ma about economic hardships on his China friendly policies is not helpful because the economic problem is not really his doing but a global crisis emanating from USA. In fact, I would argue that his friendly policies alleviate the Taiwanese suffering.

Joe

December 25, 2008 2:38 AM

To Mongmei,

10 million dollars is an investment that will bring in hundreds of millon dollars of revenue to the zoo and the business and employments around the zoo (hotels, restaurants, sourveniers, etc.).

Just see the example of San Diego zoo in California, U.S.A. They rented the two pandas for millions of dollars per year from China in order to bring in more visitors. So, Taiwanese should be more appreciative that China gave them these two pandas for FREE!!!

shanglei

December 25, 2008 3:03 AM

spending 10 million dollars to take care of these two pandas is worthwhile.

Maersk

December 25, 2008 3:48 AM

Mongmei,
Should the money be given to Chen Shui Pen then?

DL

December 25, 2008 8:03 AM

Taiwan is not a country yet, so need the journalist to correct the sub-captions

Mydad

December 25, 2008 3:24 PM

It is good for everyone especially in the long run. Anyone who wants to isolate Taiwan from China or vice versa is mainly because she or he has no real interest in democratic Chinese.

Concern

December 25, 2008 4:02 PM

To DL
You're absolutely right, I think they are more happy to give another 10 million dollars to this guy, chen Shui Pen.
In fact, his cheating alleviate the Taiwanese suffering, not the pandas.

mongmei, I don't know how you got this shit 'International law prohibits pandas travel abroad' you 're problely one of unemployment suffering from Chen Shui Pen who is stealing the tax dollars from those poeple who live in Taiwan.

Mongrel

December 25, 2008 6:34 PM

I thought as a part of China, Twaiwan also has Pandas. It seems that I was quite wrong. No pandas means Twaiwan is not part of China!

Wenchang

December 25, 2008 11:43 PM

@Mongmei:

In Taiwan, there are political ideologues and then there are political idiots. You belong to the latter.

1. 10 Million Taiwan Dollar is a very small amount of money, an incredible bargain for two rent-free pandas. Every other panda-less zoos in the world are very jealous of Taipei Zoo.
2. Pandas are not criminal suspects, they are free to travel with proper clearance. Chen Shui-bian and his family, who are heroes for people like you, on the other hand, are criminal suspects and definitely not allowed to travel the world, for very justifiable causes.
3. Chen Shui-bian and his family has stolen billions of Taiwan dollars from Taiwanese people, even a tiny amount of interests would be far more than the 10 Million needed to keep the pandas.
4. Taiwan people absolutely love the pandas. True, a few political idiots claimed that they will forbid their family to go visit the pandas, which only review their lack of democratic values at home, so how can they claim to be a member of ‘Democratic Progressive’ party. But of cause, most people in Taiwan know very well that the DPP are any thing but ‘democratic’ or ‘progressive’. They are just a bunch of greedy politicians.

Choumei

December 26, 2008 12:01 AM

Tuantuan and Yuanyuan will bring happiness to a lot of people in Taiwan. Only idiots will continue to protest these goodwill gifts, and these idiots will bound to be losers.

Warren

December 26, 2008 12:39 AM

Would pandas increase business for the zoo and Taiwan overall? I don't think it is the solution for improving R.O.C.'s economy as some of you may be thinking. It'll improve the zoo's business but may not affect overall economy significantly.

Taiwanese business have been running in China for many years and I don't think bringing in the relationship closer will improve Taiwan's economy based on what Taiwanese businesses have been doing for many years. Can anyone elaborate rationally for me?

Maerks: what the heck are you referring about money being given to Chen Shui-pian? I know the situation about the former president, but I don't understand what your rationality with that statement, honestly. But it seems there is some biased based on no hard facts with the former president's situation -- I hear this all the time without solid proof from people.

Anyway, there are two governments that we know of. Both of them are functioning: one in Beijing and one in Taipei. The only question is: Do we recognize the government that is on Taiwan? Most of the nations at the U.N. do not and some do. There isn't a correct answer to whether R.O.C. is a recognize form of government. But if we will argue about whether it is or not is just wasting time at this moment.

Concern

December 26, 2008 2:31 AM

To Warren
There is no biased based on hard facts of recent investigation with this guy, Chen Shui-bian and his family has stolen billions of Taiwan dollars from Taiwanese people.
Only idiots like you will continue to protest these political idiots bound to be losers. I bet you 're not Taiwanese because it 's not your tax money to pay for Chen Shui-bian who are heroe for people like you.

Warren

December 26, 2008 7:04 AM

Would pandas increase business for the zoo and Taiwan overall? I don't think it is the solution for improving R.O.C.'s economy as some of you may be thinking. It'll improve the zoo's business but may not affect overall economy significantly.

Taiwanese business have been running in China for many years and I don't think bringing in the relationship closer will improve Taiwan's economy based on what Taiwanese businesses have been doing for many years. Can anyone elaborate rationally for me?

Maerks: what the heck are you referring about money being given to Chen Shui-pian? I know the situation about the former president, but I don't understand what your rationality with that statement, honestly. But it seems there is some biased based on no hard facts with the former president's situation -- I hear this all the time without solid proof from people.

Anyway, there are two governments that we know of. Both of them are functioning: one in Beijing and one in Taipei. The only question is: Do we recognize the government that is on Taiwan? Most of the nations at the U.N. do not and some do. There isn't a correct answer to whether R.O.C. is a recognize form of government. But if we will argue about whether it is or not is just wasting time at this moment.

ChinaMan

December 26, 2008 9:36 AM

As a Chinese-American (From the Mainland China), I worked in Taiwan for 4 months this year.

I love Taiwan, the people, the food, the Toroko Mountains, and etc. The only thing I do not like Taiwan are the DPP / Green Party followers, they seem to be just like to fight for anything has "China" in it. We are all Chinese.

We all know China is Taiwan's #1 trading partner, Taiwan gains nothing to have bad relationship with China. If we have a vote in China, I bet you 90% of Mainlanders will not support Taiwan's independence.

President Ma's closer policy with China is a smart / long term strategy good for Taiwan.

BTW, 10M NT$ care for the 2 pandars will bring 100M NT$ income for Taipei zoo, go figure.

JiaMing

December 26, 2008 2:07 PM

Closer ties are always good for both sides because both people get to know each other better. I don't think Taiwanese will choose reunification while China is still ruled by an undemocratic government. The best decisions Taiwanese (or anybody) will make are informed decisions. The most accurate information is from personal experience and contact. On the other hand, when mainlanders have more experience with the people, culture and system of Taiwan, they are far less likely to support use of force or other unfriendly measures as means to achieve reunification. Nobody should oppose more contact with anyone living on the planet unless you want to keep your people ignorant. An open, democratic society like Taiwan definitely should not.

jacky

December 26, 2008 3:10 PM

Mongmei - You have the right to express your opinion but whether "Taiwan" will forgive Ma or not can not be decided by you alone. We will see the answer in the next presidential election. Don't forget, in a democratic society the opinion agreed by 50.1% of people is the true voice of that society.

Is Taiwan a country? Let’s see the following facts: Taiwan has its own territory, national flag, national anthem, military forces, civil laws, and, especially, a democracy that allows her citizens to elect their own leaders.

Is Taiwan part of the PRC? Let’s exam: No law of PRC is followed by the people of Taiwan. No Taiwanese taxes are paid to the government of PRC. The air or sea vessels of PLA (People Liberation Army) are off the limit of the Taiwanese territory.

If Taiwan IS a part of China, why the Taiwanese people travel to overseas with a passport that is different with the one issued by Beijing? There are more than 20 countries recognize Taiwan as a country. Taiwan’s combined national strength is greater than 2/3 of the countries in the world. If there is no interference from China, there must be at least 150 countries embrace Taiwan.

Playing of words does not change the fact. Suggest that the “brothers and sisters” in China mainland ditch your chauvinism and treat the people in Taiwan with open mind and, most importantly, get democracy in your own house. Then, let’s talk about “unification”.

Moses & Joshua

December 26, 2008 7:31 PM

Former president Chen Shui-bian, was indicted on corruption charges. In an attempt to save himself, Chen is now accusing former president Lee Teng-hui of money laundering also.

These pair of formerly self-proclaimed "Moses & Joshua of Taiwan Independance" are now openly engaging in the mother of all cat fights. It is so unfortunately that Taiwanese people had to live with such shameless characters.

Venkatesh

January 19, 2009 1:23 AM

China is sending pandas to Taiwin as a good will gesture. China is known for its rise into an economic might. Chinese are smart and hard working people. Correct me if my thoughts about chinese are wrong, let me see??? When this rising economic power wants friendship you should be smart enough to use it and careful also. What could be the catch? I have not yet seen a nice China yet. Anything apart from wanting Taiwan part of its own.

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