China pandas take off for Taiwan
A pair of giant pandas took off from China's fog-shrouded mountains of Sichuan province for Taiwan amid Tibetan song and dance today, in the latest sign of improving ties between the political rivals.
Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, whose names said together mean "unite", were carried aboard a jumbo jet in the provincial capital, Chengdu, in two separate crates, with accompanying baggage of steamed corn buns and fresh bamboo shoots.
"The pandas take 1.3 billion of mainland people's blessing to Taiwan and will sow the seeds of peace, unity and fraternal love there," Zheng Lizhong, deputy chief of the Taiwan Affairs Office, said at the farewell ceremony.
Beijing has given pandas to nine countries, including Japan, North Korea, the United States and the former Soviet Union, since 1957.
China has claimed self-ruled Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. It has vowed to bring the island under mainland rule, by force if necessary, but ties have improved vastly since this year's election of China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.
China had offered the pandas as a goodwill gift in 2006 as part of a charm offensive after decades of sabre rattling. Taiwan's then anti-China president declined the gift.
Pandas can only be found in the wild in China where they are rebounding from the brink of extinction, but not yet out of the woods -- in large part because of difficulties in producing cubs.
The Taiwan zoo which will be their new home will try to mate the pair and may return any cub for tender loving care back in China, a zoo official said last month.
Last week, Taiwan and China launched direct daily passenger flights, new shipping routes and postal links for the first time in six decades. China has also offered Taiwan investors on the mainland $19 billion in financing over the next three years amid the global economic downturn
But many Taiwan citizens would prefer China remove missiles aimed at the island and let it join international organisations such as the United Nations instead of offering money or animals, experts say.
The four-year-old pandas have been living at a breeding base in Sichuan, neighbouring Tibet, for several months. Their previous home, the Wolong Nature Reserve, was damaged in the earthquake that struck Sichuan on May 12, killing more than 80,000 people.
Along with the pandas, China is sending 17 Chinese dove trees, symbolising the 170,000 Qiang minority people of the Sichuan quake zone.