Never mind the fact that her parents' names, said together, mean 'reunion.' The senior pandas were China's gift to Taiwan.
China probably wasn’t on the minds of more than 9,500 people who visited the Taipei Zoo for their first look at a giant panda cub this week, but the critter’s popularity still gives a soft touch to tough relations between two old political foes.
The cub named Yuan Zai was born exactly six months ago to two gift pandas from China. Their names said together mean reunion, a hint about what Beijing wants for the two separately ruled sides. Yet the cub’s name comes from the local Taiwanese dialect, a distancing from Beijing, and many people have quit thinking about the older bears’ origin.
“Of course China will be happy about Yuan Zai because it’s the source of the adult pandas,” says Hsu Yung-ming, political scientist at Soochow University in Taipei. “But a lot of common people aren’t that clear as to where the cub came from. To them it’s just another phase of entertainment.”
Experts had described the gift pandas as China's ploy to charm the island public toward eventual reunification.
Even if visitors didn’t consider politics while taking a number to file past the zoo enclosure on Monday and exclaim “how cute,” China’s ears should still perk up.
Taiwan owns Yuan Zai, the first cub born locally, but will still consult China in making sure she breeds to raise the endangered world population, says zoo spokesman Chao Ming-chieh. China remains the top breeder of pandas and its bamboo forests are their only natural habitat. About 1,600 live in the wild.