Thu, Jun 02, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Cabinet calls for cross-strait panda talks

DIPLOMACY Officials will have to discuss the practical implications of Beijing's offer, the Cabinet said. Meanwhile, China has invited Taiwanese to help name the animals

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AP

Before China can fulfill its promise to deliver two giant pandas to Taiwan, officials from Beijing and Taipei will have to sit down and discuss the practical implications, such as whether the animals will be able to survive in Taiwan, the Cabinet said yesterday.

"It is just not as easy as they [Chinese officials] have said," Cabinet Spokesman Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰) said at a press conference after the weekly Cabinet meeting yesterday morning.

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) promised Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) during his trip to China in April that the Beijing government would send a pair of pandas to Taiwan as a token of its goodwill toward Taiwanese people.

Cho said that the giant panda is a protected and endangered species, and Taiwan will have to make sure it is capable of taking care of the animals before accepting the gift.

He said Beijing's offer to send the pandas to Taiwan had a political motive.

"They [Chinese officials] made it sound like the offer only concerns the two sides of the Strait and that nobody is allowed to interfere. They feel they can do as they please, because they do not regard us as a foreign country. However, what concerns us more is whether the pandas can survive in Taiwan," Cho said.

He said that he would propose a meeting between the two governments to discuss the issue and invite experts to work out practical details.

"Pandas have a right to survive as well. Taiwan values the spirit of the right to survive [as a nation], so we should spend more time to make sure the species can live in our environment before we welcome them," he said.

China has meanwhile started a selection process to find two suitable pandas.

Beijing is looking for pandas between 18 months and four years old, the State Forestry Administration said.

China will also try to engage Taiwanese in finding names for the animals.

"We will solicit names for them -- their infant names from the mainland people and their formal names from the Taiwan people," Xinhua quoted administration spokesman Cao Qingyao as saying.

According to the Mainland Affairs Council, the Chinese government has tried to give pandas to Taiwan three times since 1992, but the offer was turned down each time, as evaluations by local experts have shown that current facilities and manpower in Taiwan are not capable of accommodating giant pandas.

Apart from environmental concerns, the financial implications of taking care of giant pandas will be another issue for Taiwan.

According to an evaluation by the Taipei City Zoo, it will cost around NT$53.4 million (US$1.7 million) per year to take care of a single panda.

This includes a US$1 million donation to the giant panda preservation fund in China.

The annual budget for the Taipei City Zoo is NT$400 million.

The Chinese government has been using the popular animalss since 1950 as part of a "panda diplomacy" approach. It has given away 25 pandas to nine countries and Hong Kong.

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