High security for Taiwan-bound pandas

Chengdu, December 22:

More than 500 security guards and armed police were keeping watch today at an airport in southwest China where a pair of pandas will take off for their new home in Taiwan, state media reported.

The tight security underscored enduring political tension between China and rival Taiwan, with the self-ruled island’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party warning that the pandas may be a communist propaganda ploy.

An Eva Air jet from Taiwan landed at the Shuangliu Airport in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu at midday, and will leave tomorrow afternoon with pandas “Tuan Tuan” and

“Yuan Yuan,” the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Roads will be blocked when the pandas, who live at a sanctuary 120 km outside Chengdu, travel to the airport in a convoy, CCTV said.

The report did not explain the need for such high security, but events surrounding Taiwan have always been sensitive in China. An official who answered the telephone at the Shuangliu airport refused to answer any questions or give his name.

A Chengdu police publicity official would only say, “We can guarantee those pandas arrive Taiwan safe and happily.” He also would not give his name, as is common among Chinese officials.

Beijing first offered the pandas to Taiwan in 2005 hoping they would strengthen Taiwanese public support for reuniting with the mainland, an offer rejected by the island’s former leaders

who supported independence for the self-governed island. Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has tried to nurture closer ties with the mainland and accepted the pandas as a goodwill gesture.