Sat, Jan 07, 2006 - Page 1 News List

China's `panda ploy' irritates officials

PANDA DIPLOMACY Beijing was trying to exploit political divisions in Taiwan by offering `pandas of peace' even as it criticized the government, the MAC chairman said

By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTERS WITH CNA

Pandas and polemics were the prominent issues in cross-strait affairs yesterday, after Beijing officially selected the two black-and-white bears it would offer to Taiwan.

The move struck a raw nerve with the Taiwanese government, which has not yet decided whether it would take the giant pandas, while opposition leaders urged that the bears be accepted as a peace offering.

Cao Qingyao (曹清堯), a spokesman for China's State Forestry Administration, announced at a press conference in Beijing yesterday that a male and a female panda had been chosen from among 11 candidates from the China Giant Panda Research Center in Wolong, Sichuan Province, to be sent as "goodwill presents to the people of Taiwan."

Meanwhile, China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) attacked the policies of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), even as it explained the efforts to send the pandas as a gesture of peace to Taiwan.

TAO spokesman Li Weiyi (李維一) yesterday said that the constitutional reengineering project that Chen pledged to carry out by 2007 was not acceptable to Beijing.

"This shows that risk is on the rise, as Beijing sees Chen's constitutional re-engineering project as a provocative step towards formal statehood," he said.

Speaking about the pandas, the TAO said that an association related to the Taipei City Zoo and a public relations company in Taichung have filed applications with the China Wild Animal Protection Association for the right to host the two pandas.

But Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) reacted negatively to both issues raised by the TAO.

"If China keeps viewing Taiwan's political development with this wrong perception, I would suppose there is really not much to expect from cross-strait relations in the future," said MAC Chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), speaking during a regular news briefing at the MAC headquarters.

Wu also said that China cannot send the pandas to Taiwan without prior consent.

Saying that China decided to send the bears in June without having first discussed the matter with the Taiwanese government, Wu called on Beijing to show some respect.

The MAC chairman said that constitutional reform and independence were two separate things.

"We are not pursuing de jure independence through referendum, as the constitutional reform package would be about how to create a system of government suited to the needs of this country," Wu said.

"The current Constitution was established in China in 1947, and in it there is no clear basis for the adoption of either a presidential or a parliamentary system of government," he said, adding that this has contributed to political difficulties in recent years.

"[Taiwan has], again and again, explained the significance of the second phase of constitutional reform, which has nothing to do with Taiwan's independence. China's misunderstanding is no good for cross-strait relations in the future," he said.

The MAC chairman said China has been using the offer to send the pandas as a "united front scheme."Opposition leaders appeared to bolster his claim that China was exploiting political differences in Taiwan, as they criticized the government's stance on the issue.

"The giant pandas' coming to Taiwan can improve cross-strait relations, and I hope that the government does not politicize the issue and spoil the chances for peaceful exchanges across the Strait," said former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰), whose trip to China last May resulted in Beijing's decision to present the pandas to Taiwan.

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