Sun, Jan 08, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Hsieh says pandas, direct links require talks with China

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH CNA

Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) yesterday said that China's offer to give Taiwan two pandas is not an issue that Beijing can work out unilaterally.

"[Chinese officials] should respect us. Whether we are capable of hosting pandas is more important than anything else," Hsieh said. "Pandas are cute. But they will be ugly if they are politicized."

China offered to give Taiwan a pair of pandas in May last year during the visit to China by then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰). Beijing officials announced on Friday that they have selected two pandas out of a group of 23 to be sent to Taiwan, and that they are fully prepared to deliver the gift as soon as Taiwanese authorities are ready.

On Friday, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) criticized Beijing for showing no respect for Taiwan by offering pandas unilaterally without discussing the matter with the Taiwanese government in advance.

Taiwan's Council of Agriculture is expected to decide by March 23 whether to approve applications from several local zoological parks, including the Taipei Zoo, to import the pandas.

KMT Legislator Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕) said yesterday that she may initiate a referendum to let the people decide whether Taiwan should accept the pair of pandas offered by China if the government insists on refusing to accept the animals.

Lu said she hopes that the referendum will be held alongside elections for borough chiefs in June.

Claiming that importing the pandas has nothing to do with politics, Lu said the animals should not become a "sacrifice of political struggle."

Lu accused the MAC of having a "phobia about China" for opposing the import of the pandas, and said that the MAC is the biggest obstacle in cross-strait exchanges.

Meanwhile, the premier yesterday said "fairness is what the government is seeking when it comes to cross-strait relations."

Hsieh made the remarks in response to KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) proposal for a referendum on direct cross-strait air links.

"Everything must be completed through negotiation," Hsieh said. "It is not an issue that Taiwan or the Chinese government can decide on its own."

The premier said direct flights are not a simple issue because they would take a long time to implement even if the plan was approved in a referendum. Hsieh said the KMT had not clearly explained whether it would first propose a referendum or amend related regulations and laws.

"Even if they complete both the amending of laws and a referendum, the issue of direct air links with China is not something that can be done immediately," he said.

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