09/14/2007, 00.00
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Beijing to suspend ‘panda diplomacy’

For decades mainland China donated giant pandas to foreign governments as a goodwill gesture. Now it has decided to stop because of the species’ endangered status. It will however continue to “lend” them for scientific research and to zoos. For years it has tried to give one to Taiwan, which keeps on rebuffing the mainland’s offer.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China has decided to halt its time-honoured goodwill gesture of giving pandas to foreign countries because the animal is highly endangered, China will only lend them for the purposes of “breeding and biological research,” Cao Qingyuan, State Forestry Administration spokesman, is quoted as saying.

For years Beijing has conducted what has been dubbed ‘panda diplomacy’ to pursue its ends. The cute animal, which lives only in China, has been donated to leaders and representatives of foreign as tokens of friendship.

Now only an estimated 1,600 wild pandas live in nature reserves in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces.

Mainland China will continue none the less to use them as its ‘ambassadors’ to the world.

On Saturday for example, Spain's Madrid zoo welcomed a pair of pandas loaned by the Chinese government.

Last week, Chinese authorities agreed to send a pair of pandas from its Wolong nature reserve in south-western Sichuan province to Adelaide zoo in Australia on a ten-year loan.

From now on, China will give pandas as presents only to Hong Kong, which was returned to China in 1997, and to Taiwan, the neighbouring self-ruled island China considers its own.

In April, China sent a second pair of pandas to Hong Kong to mark the 10th anniversary of the former British colony's return to Chinese rule.

Several times Beijing has offered Taiwan to send pandas but has been repeatedly rebuffed. One Taiwanese lawmaker once likened them to Beijing's version of the Trojan horse, “meant to destroy Taiwan's psychological defences.”

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