Thu, Mar 14, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: The dangers of ‘panda diplomacy’

There has been speculation that two more pandas are to be gifted to Taiwan, this time from China’s Chongqing to Kaohsiung. The questions are: What exactly is going on, and what are the possible repercussions for Taiwan?

Chinese National People’s Congress member Xu Pei (許沛) was quoted as saying by China’s state-run Global Times that she is considering proposing the idea to the legislature.

Responding to the news, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) said that even if Beijing approved the idea, there was a long list of procedures to complete before the gift could be made a reality, not least approval by the Kaohsiung City Government.

Kaohsiung residents have heard such proposals before, but they have never come to fruition. However, it is questionable whether Xu would have mentioned the idea to the Global Times had she not been given permission by Beijing.

It is also questionable whether the proposal is at such a nascent stage, following comments by Kaohsiung Tourism Bureau Director Pan Heng-hsu (潘恆旭), who on Sunday said that the bureau is to arrange a field trip to Chongqing in June.

Han said that the pandas would bring in tourism dollars. He jokingly suggested that he might change their names from Xiongxiong (雄雄) — which sounds like the Chinese character for “bear,” but uses the second character in “Kaohsiung” — and Rongrong (融融) to Fadacai (發大財, “prosperity”) and Zhuandaqian (賺大錢, “big earner”).

Pandas are expensive to keep. It is not just the planning, construction and maintenance of special panda enclosures: The zoo — and therefore the Kaohsiung City Government — would have to factor in the cost of employing and training specialist staff to care for them, and to plant, tend and process the huge amounts of bamboo to feed them — according to the WWF, pandas must eat 12kg to 38kg of bamboo every day.

Taipei Zoo could help: It has three pandas, two of which were gifted by China in 2008 and the third, which is their offspring. However, Kaohsiung Municipal Shoushan Zoo does not have the space, facilities or budget of Taipei Zoo. It is doubtful that Shoushan Zoo, and therefore the Kaohsiung City Government, would be able to avoid incurring a huge loss.

Other nations have to pay considerable amounts of money to “rent” pandas from China. This is not the case for Taiwan, as they are considered gifts. This in itself creates complications.

The rental agreements between China and other nations is a way of circumventing restrictions, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), on the international transfer of endangered species. Taiwan is not a signatory to CITES, but China has a huge interest in the perception internationally that China’s gifting of pandas to Taiwan implies that the transaction is a domestic one. This bolsters China’s position that Taiwan is a part of China and not a sovereign nation.

This is precisely why the Democratic Progressive Party administration under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) rejected the pandas that eventually went to Taipei Zoo, and why former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was happy to accept them in the year his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration rose to power.

China regards its pandas as national treasures and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has always seen them as political symbols of China’s power. Implicit in taking pandas on loan is acceptance of the CCP’s “one China” principle, including acknowledgment that Taiwan is part of China.

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