Wed, Dec 24, 2008 - Page 4 News List

PANDA DIPLOMACY: ANALYSIS: Pandas part of Beijing’s ‘internalization’ plan

STAFF REPORTER , By Ko Shu-ling

Minority dancers from Sichuan Province perform in front of a giant poster showing a pair of pandas at Chengdu airport yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

The importation of two giant pandas from China is part of Beijing’s strategy to “internalize” the Taiwan issue and likely an attempt by the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration to divert public attention from its lackluster performance, some political watchers said yesterday.

With all eyes fixed on the arrival of the two endangered animals in Taiwan yesterday, few paid attention to China’s maneuver to bypass the international export treaty for endangered species classifying the transport of the two pandas as a “domestic transfer.”

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora stipulates that the transfer of endangered species between two countries must abide by the covenant. The CITES Secretariat, however, said on Monday that it considered China’s export of the two pandas as “domestic trade.”

Taiwan Society secretary-general Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) said the importation of the two animals was an overt attempt by Beijing to push toward its goal of Taiwan’s de jure unification with China and part of its strategy to “internalize” the Taiwan question.

“The former Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] government internationalized the Taiwan issue, but the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] administration cooperates with Beijing to internalize it,” he said.

It is manifest in the four agreements signed by the both sides, Lo said. Taking the example of direct cross-strait flights, all airports open for such services are “domestic.” The cross-strait food safety mechanism does not need to go through the international health organization either, he said.

“Beijing has a comprehensive strategy of cross-strait relations and is gradually working toward its ultimate goal of de jure unification,” he said.

Criticizing the timing of the importation of the two animals, Lo said he suspected it was an attempt by the Ma administration to distract public attention from the government’s inability to address economic issues and the soaring unemployment rate.

“It costs a lot to keep the two giant pandas. Why don’t they spend the money on children’s school lunches?” he said.

While some families can not make ends meet or even find a job, Lo said the government had put the disadvantaged under pressure because they were unlikely to be able to afford to take their children to the zoo to see the pandas.

“Does the government plan to issue panda vouchers?” he said. “What they are doing is rubbing salt in their wound.”

Chen Yen-hui (陳延輝), a professor at National Taiwan Normal University’s Graduate Institute of Political Science, agreed that the importation of the two pandas was Beijing’s attempt to “internalize” the Taiwan question.

“It is very clear,” he said. “It is Beijing’s ‘united front’ strategy to make the international community think that Taiwan is part of China.”

He, however, said he did not think the timing was questionable.

“It looks a little bit suspicious, but I think it is more of a coincidence meant to coincide with the Lunar New Year and reflect the easing tension between both sides,” he said.

Leou Chia-feng (柳嘉峰), executive director of the Institute for National Development, also said the pandas are an example of Beijing’s systematic strategy of “internalizing” the Taiwan issue.

“From direct transportation links to pandas, Beijing has never changed its policy and is working toward its goal step by step,” Leou said. “Beijing’s strategy toward Taiwan is similar to the one toward Hong Kong. ‘As long as you listen to me, I will keep giving you small favors.’”

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