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Taiwan Rejects China’s Offer of Pandas

March 31, 2006

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ Tuan Tuan the panda won’t be following in the footsteps of his mother and grandparents as a goodwill ambassador for China. Taiwan on Friday rejected China’s offer of the panda and a female mate, Yuan Yuan, in the latest sign of a hardening attitude toward its communist neighbor.

Beijing first offered the animals last May as part of an effort to woo Taiwanese support for uniting with the mainland, from which Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.

Their names come from the word ``tuanyuan″ which means ``reunion.″

Tuan Tuan comes from a long line of panda ambassadors. His mother, ``Hua Mei,″ was the first U.S.-born panda to live longer than a few months. She was born in 1999 to a pair of pandas China lent to the San Diego zoo in California. She returned to China in 2004.

Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture said the island was unable to accept the pandas because they would not receive proper care on the island as required by animal protection laws and international agreements.

``Under present circumstances, we cannot accept the pandas coming to Taiwan,″ Forestry Bureau vice chairman Lee Tao-sheng told reporters after final discussions by a panel of experts.

The Taipei City Zoo and the Leofoo Village Theme Park in the northern city of Kuanhsi both applied to house the pandas. But Lee said they did not offer enough details on research an education plans for pandas.

The pair was picked from 11 animals at the Wolong Nature Reserve in southwestern Sichuan province.

Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian and his supporters have repeatedly denounced China’s offer as a propaganda ploy designed to camouflage its threats to attack Taiwan. Chen is a strong supporter of a separate identity for the island, while the opposition supports eventual unification.

In February, Chen in February angered Beijing by scrapping a body in charge of unification with the mainland. Last week, the government announced stricter supervision of trade and tourism links with China.

In a statement on the presidential Web site last week, Chen said the pandas would not be happy living in Taiwan and called on Beijing to step up conservation efforts for the animals in China.

China estimates that 1,590 pandas live in the wild in the country, with another 183 in zoos and breeding centers.

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