Taiwan rejects offer of Chinese pandas

Taiwan rejected the offer of two pandas from rival China on Friday in the latest sign of a hardening attitude toward its communist neighbor. Beijing first offered the animals last spring when Taiwanese opposition leader Lien Chan visited China . The offer was part of a Chinese effort to strengthen Taiwanese support for uniting with the mainland, from which Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.

The government's Council of Agriculture announced Friday Taiwan was unable to accept the animals because they would not receive proper care on the island as requested 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.

Lee said applications to house the pandas from the Taipei City Zoo and the Leofoo Village Theme Park , located in the northern city of Kuanhsi , didn't focus enough on research and education. "The current plans to exhibit and strengthen the teaching of wildlife protection are not concrete enough," Lee said, without elaborating.

The pandas earmarked for Taiwan were picked from 11 animals at the Wolong Nature Reserve in southwestern Sichuan province. They were named Tuantuan and Yuanyuan, from the word "tuanyuan" which means "reunion."

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.

Rejection of the pandas comes after 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, reports the AP.

N.U.