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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The New York Times > International > Asia Pacific > On Path to China-Taiwan Détente, Strolling Pandas, Perhaps

The New York Times > International > Asia Pacific > On Path to China-Taiwan Détente, Strolling Pandas, Perhaps:May 3, 2005
On Path to China-Taiwan Détente, Strolling Pandas, Perhaps

TAIPEI, Taiwan, Tuesday, May 3 - Taking a chapter from Chinese-American diplomacy during the Nixon administration, China announced Tuesday that it would give a pair of giant pandas to Taiwan, the latest step in an evolving détente.

In gestures to mark the end of the weeklong visit to China by Lien Chan, chairman of Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party, Chinese officials also said they would increase imports of Taiwanese fruit and allow more Chinese to visit Taiwan.

The moves, announced by the official New China News Agency, are clearly intended to appeal to public sentiment here and force President Chen Shui-bian to improve ties.

Many here have been pining for pandas - Taiwan has none now - and local media have been engaged in sometimes frenzied speculation that Taiwan's chance might have finally arrived.

The Chinese willingness to import more fruit is a direct appeal for moderation from some of the strongest advocates of Taiwanese independence, the farmers of southern Taiwan. They are also a cornerstone of the political base of President Chen, who grew up in a farming village there.

The Chinese decision to liberalize tourism could, if permitted by Taiwan, make the island's travel industry almost as dependent on the mainland as Hong Kong's, and turn hoteliers and restaurateurs into advocates of closer relations with Beijing.

President Chen and his Democratic Progressive Party have risen to power by confronting China, emphasizing a separate Taiwanese identity and flirting with independence. But Mr. Lien's visit, the first by a Nationalist leader since the end of China's civil war in 1949, has put pressure on President Chen to show he can also work with China's leaders.

The pressure is especially acute because elections will be held on May 14 for the National Assembly, an obscure body that has a role only in constitutional decisions and is separate from the legislature. The elections will be an indication of public sentiment, and President Chen wants to push through constitutional changes during his three remaining years in office.

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