"It's clearly part of the longer rapprochement, a nice symbol," Brad Glosserman, executive director of the U.S.-based think tank Pacific Forum CSIS, said of the pandas.Dr. Glosserman is exactly right: the pandas are a perfect symbol of Taiwan-China relations. As a friend from the environmental movement pointed out to me today, the Taipei Zoo's budget for the Capitulationist Raccoons is NT$37 million; for the critically endangered Formosan Black bear, unique to Taiwan; just NT $100,000 (it was voted the Zoo's most popular animal last year). For studies of Formosan Black Bears in the wild, the government gives just $NT 1 million annually. The Taipei Zoo's 2005 proposal for the panda budget is online here; it even includes sucking up $$ from local businesses to establish a conservation fund for animals China already has a large conservation program to serve.
It's a very Chinese gift somehow, that gets Taiwan to pay to starve its own resources for the sake of China. Indeed a perfect metaphor for Taiwan-China relations.