A pair of giant pandas arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday as a gift from China, the latest move in rapidly warming ties between the longtime rivals.
A green-liveried Eva Airways jet carrying "Tuan Tuan" and "Yuan Yuan" set down at Taipei airport after the three-hour flight from Chengdu in Sichuan province.
Taken together the pandas' names mean reunion — underscoring Chinese hopes that the animals' arrival in Taiwan will spur unity between the sides, 59 years after they split amid civil war.
Tuesday's panda arrival follows by a week the initiation of expanded transportation links across the 100-mile- (160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait and other signs of friendship between Beijing and Taipei.
Since his inauguration seven months ago, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has moved aggressively to link Taiwan closer to the mainland, opening the door to a substantially increased flow of Chinese tourists and sanctioning a more liberalized regime for bilateral investments.
Jon Adams at CS Monitor offered another one of his uniformly first-rate articles on the issue:
There's economy class. There's business class. And then there's "giant panda" class – featuring temperatures of 18 to 20 degrees Celsius, all-you-can-eat cornbread and bamboo, and panda-sized doses of motion sickness pills.
Those were some of the services provided for two giant pandas transported by airplane Tuesday from China to Taiwan. In a symbolic move of "panda diplomacy," Beijing marked warming cross-strait ties with the furry gifts, amid fanfare and a media frenzy.
and Ralph Jennings of Reuters also describes the giant wave of publicity for the mammalian political messages on the Reuters blog:
Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan arrived in a city gripped by panda-mania today. You would think David Beckham or Tom Cruise had just flown into Taipei.
Local TV stations announced the arrival of the two giant pandas from China with the rolling headline: “We’re coming!” TV anchors working the story have given viewers across Taiwan every detail imaginable about the four-year-old pandas — from the fruit and corn buns they love to eat to hopes they will mate at the Taipei zoo and produce a cub.
There's a quote from me there, but they cut another one I thought was much better: the pandas are the Olsen twins of reunification: cute, shallow, and high-maintenance.
Commentators are likely to present the pandamnation as a unique response to China, hoping to sell China to the Taiwan public, but this move should also be placed in the context of animal crazes that are quite normal for the popular Taipei Zoo. Old-timers probably remember both the koala craze and the penguin craze in the 1990s....
...remember the penguins? In Dec of 2000, the Taipei Times noted:
After a 65-day wait, the dreams of an entire nation were shattered Friday when the Taipei City Zoo announced the death of what would have been Taiwan's first penguin to be hatched in captivity.Based on these previous crazes, there will undoubtedly be another craze for the pandas, simple creatures, the public will queue up in long lines for a short glimpse of the rotund bamboo chewing machines, leading commentators to write about how successful the Capitulationist Raccoons are.
As the entire nation mourned the death of the marine bird embryo, animal rights groups expressed their concern over the introduction of exotic animals to the zoo, questioning the reason why such establishments exist at all.
Following the koala craze last year, the zoo imported four king penguins in September, with plans to add 10 more king penguins and 30 black-footed penguins to the group.
Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (
馬英九) has instructed the zoo to study the possibility of introducing giant pandas in the near future, pending approval from the central government.
In subtropical Taiwan, the arrival of the four Antarctic creatures has sparked a frenzy among the media and the public. As the media provided a daily update of the egg's progress, zoo-goers, mostly children, queued up in kilometer-long lines for up to two hours each weekend just for a 20-second glimpse of it.
But the fact is that such crazes, normal in Taiwanese life, have short half-lives, and this one will fade as it dawns even on the easily-led primate herds of Taipei that observing pandas is as unique and fun and interesting as watching granite erode. Fads are common in Taiwan, as the Taiwan Journal noted of the koala craze:
This particular phenomenon also says something else about local society. The penguin egg craze was fueled by Taiwan people's tendency to follow the crowd. Fads seem to occur with seasonal regularity here. In the past, the public has gone nuts for everything from Pokemon electronic games to Hello Kitty dolls. Last year, people waited in kilometer-long queues for up to five hours in order to have a brief look at two koalas from Australia. This time, the local media went wild over an egg.
...and who can forget the egg tart craze? The koala craze resurfaced briefly in 2003 when mother koala reproduced, but the death of both mother and baby killed it. Taiwan is hardly alone -- there was a lemur craze in Singapore a couple of years ago -- and lemurs are so slothful they make pandas look manic.
But to return to the topic at hand, remember that even as mayor of Taipei Ma was trying to get pandas for the Zoo way back in 2000. The idea that China "offered" Taiwan pandas as a "goodwill gesture" -- a facade often reported in the media as fact -- is upside down: officials have been aching for pandas here for decades. This is not something that dates from Lien Chan's 2005 visit to China, as is frequently reported (BBC, China Post, to name only two). That same Taipei Times article -- which is excellent and should be read in its entirety -- reports:
The idea of introducing giant pandas to Taipei's zoo is not new. It dates back to the 1980's when the Zoological Society of Taipei (Housing exotic animals in the Zoo is expensive -- the penguin exhibit costs buckets of money, to preserve animals that are in no danger of extinction. In the panda case there is even less excuse -- China already has an active conservation program. Taiwan should be spending the money on its own rare animals (my post on the costs).
台北市動物之友協會) was formed to provide the zoo with financial support and non-governmental contact with non-diplomatic allies.
The idea was first initiated by the incumbent chairman of the society, Hung Wen-tung (
洪文棟), a former legislator, after Hung's visit to a panda house in a Japan zoo, according to Li Te-hsien ( 李德嫻), secretary-general of the society.
"Back then, the tourism industry had not been liberalized and the Taipei City Zoo had few rare animals to attract visitors. Hung thought that it might not be a bad idea to bring the animals from elsewhere in the world to Taiwan, particularly giant pandas," Li said.
As for the sovereignty issue, if the name of the animals wasn't enough, the media have reported that the pandas were delivered to Taiwan as a "domestic" transfer implying that Taiwan and China are one country. Another broken promise of Ma, who yesterday announced that Taiwan and China were two regions of China, not separate countries. As I always say, the inaugural address is simply a 100% backwards road map of how things will go. Taiwan News observed:
Nevertheless, this "trade" cannot cover up the reality that the transfer of the pandas to Taiwan has actually being handled as a "domestic" transfer....and so our sovereignty was sold for two pandas, and we had to pay NT$38 million annually for the privilege of caring for them. They must be rolling on the floor in Beijing...
As revealed by DPP Taipei City councilpersons, the documentation for the export of the pandas did not have a CITES certification but only bore the stamp of a PRC wildlife organization and did not mention the importing country, but only listed "Taipei."
The only way in which such a transfer would be possible would be in the case of a domestic transfer within the People`s Republic of China itself.
The agreement by the Ma government to accept Beijing's "gift" instead of arranging a CITES mandated and regulated "loan" of the two giant pandas was tantamount to announcing to the entire world that the KMT government accepts that Taiwan is not an independent country and that the sovereignty of the PRC extends over Taiwan.
It is vitally important to stress that the arrival of these two pandas is tantamount to a public announcement to the world that Taiwan is part of the People`s Republic of China precisely because it is the PRC that is signatory to CITES, which, due to Beijing`s pressure, lists Taiwan as its province.
The statement by the CITES secretariat Tuesday in Geneva that it views the arrival of the two pandas as "an internal transfer" and the confirmation that the transfer was therefore not reported to CITES confirms this fact.
MEDIA WATCH: AP still clings to the historically inaccurate "split in 1949" which is not only incorrect (China did not own Taiwan in 1949; Japan did, it was the KMT and the CCP that split), but violates official US policy that the status of Taiwan is undetermined. I guess AP is now big enough to make its own reality, and lesser news organizations will have to restrict themselves to the facts. AFP still uses it too: "Taiwan and China split in 1949 at the end of a civil war" -- apparently believing that Taiwan and China fought a civil war.
Another common media problem is the use of the term "goodwill." Reuters headlines the article from the other day with a reference to China's "goodwill" pandas, taking the common international media stance that this is a "goodwill" offer although there is no goodwill involved in the offer, only political calculation. Too often the international media does Beijing's propaganda work for it, and hopefully the term "goodwill" will disappear from the media lexicon. The Reuters article itself, written by Ralph Jennings, is excellent and very well-balanced, pointing out that most people in Taiwan would prefer concrete gestures, such as international space, or fewer missiles pointed at the island.
ADDED: Pandas, from a couple of years ago....