March 23, 2006

Keep the pandas, Taiwan’s Chen tells China

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian told
China on Thursday to drop the idea of giving the island a
goodwill gift of a pair of pandas, saying they would not be

"A-bian sincerely urges the Chinese leaders to leave the
giant pandas in their natural habitat, because pandas brought
up in cages or given as gifts will not be happy," Chen wrote in
a weekly electronic newsletter, using his nickname.

China and Taiwan have been diplomatic and military rivals
since their split at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949
and China still claims the island as its own.

China has offered pandas to Taiwan several times in the
past as goodwill gestures, but the island has always turned
them down, in part because it says its climate is unsuitable.

The giant panda is one of the world's most endangered
species and is found only in China. An estimated 1,000 live in
the southwestern province of Sichuan and in Shaanxi and Gansu
provinces in the northwest.

The panda offer was made at the end of a historic visit to
the mainland by Lien Chan, who heads Taiwan's Kuomintang, or
Nationalist Party, which once ruled all China and was the civil
war enemy of China's Communist Party.