Taiwan’s giant panda cub eats shoots and leaves diplomatic warmth in wake

19,000 visitors expected at Taipei Zoo daily to see the new offspring

Yuan Zai, the first Taiwan-born baby panda, climbs a wood log inside an enclosure as visitors take pictures at the Taipei City Zoo in Taipei on   Monday. Photograph: Patrick Lin/Reuters

Yuan Zai, the first Taiwan-born baby panda, climbs a wood log inside an enclosure as visitors take pictures at the Taipei City Zoo in Taipei on Monday. Photograph: Patrick Lin/Reuters

Mon, Jan 6, 2014, 22:42

There has been another win for panda diplomacy as Taiwan unveiled a six-month-old giant panda named Yuan Zai to an adoring public, with 19,000 visitors expected at Taipei Zoo daily to see the new offspring.

The youngster climbed around her cage before retiring for a nap with her mother, much to the delight of visitors, who passed in front of her cage at the rate of 40 a minute, local media reported.

Yuan Zai’s parents Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, whose names when joined together mean “reunion” in Chinese, were given to Taiwan by China in December 2008.


Closer ties
The pandas are the star attraction at Taipei Zoo and have come to embody improving ties between China and Taiwan, which was established after the Chinese civil war in 1949, when the losing Kuomingtang (KMT) forces under Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan. While they remain rivals, Taiwan is increasingly economically dependent on the People’s Republic.

China has claimed Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war, and vowed to bring the island under mainland rule, by force if necessary, but ties have improved vastly since the election in 2008 of China-friendly president Ma Ying-jeou, who has done much to bring the two sides across the Strait of Taiwan closer together.

Big sleep
The cub apparently sleeps for 20 hours a day, and zookeepers have urged visitors to be patient if she is asleep when they pass. The giant panda may spend most of its time sleeping or eating bamboo but it has serious diplomatic muscle and Beijing has a long history of using pandas in international relations. The Empress Wu presented a pair of pandas to the Emperor of Japan in the seventh century and Chiang Kai-shek gave another brace during the second World War.

Since 1957 Beijing has given pandas to nine countries, including Japan, North Korea, the United States and the former Soviet Union. China first used panda diplomacy with the United States in 1975, when it sent a pair of the docile beasts to Washington to coincide with a visit by Richard Nixon.

Pandas can only be found in the wild in China where they are rebounding slowly from the brink of extinction.