The Kaohsiung City will form a working group to prepare for the potential offer of two giant pandas from China to the Taiwanese city.

Last week, Xu Pei – a delegate to the National People’s Congress and a vice-president of the All-China Federation of Taiwan Compatriots – suggested sending pandas from Chongqing Zoo to Kaohsiung’s Shou Shan Zoo. Pandas are often used as diplomatic gifts by Beijing.

Pan Heng-hsu, commissioner of Kaohsiung’s Tourism Bureau, confirmed Xu’s plan on Sunday. He said two pandas, seven-year-old female Rongrong and eight-year-old male Xiong Xiong, could be given to the Shou Shan Zoo as early as next year. The pair’s names refer to “integration” and “Kaohsiung.”

Pan said Wang Lugang, director of the Chongqing Yutai Economic and Cultural Communication Center, spoke of the plan when he visited Taiwan last week. A working group will be set up and it will plan a trip to Chongqing in June.

Pan said the proposal will require authorisation from the Kaohsiung city government as well as the central government in Taipei.

“It is impossible to make it happen this year, the fastest is next year. But Taipei spent four years,” he told Apple Daily, referring to the time it took until two pandas were moved to Taipei in 2008. “It may take us three to four years for us to complete the whole process.”

“Of course Kaohsiung can speed up and complete it within two years, including the building of a panda pavilion; But we have to plan for the long term for its conditions – such as temperature, food, and professional [staff].”

He said the Taipei Zoo Giant Panda House cost around NT$300 million (HK$76.2 million) to build and the Kaohsiung equivalent may cost a similar amount.

Han Kuo-yu
Han Kuo-yu.

The news came ahead of Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu’s planned visit to China, Hong Kong and Macau this month.

Han said on Sunday that the plan will depend on the opinions of Kaohsiung City Council, its people and friends of the city.

“Pandas are a national treasure in the mainland – many people like to see pandas, it will be a big thing if they come to Kaohsiung. But there are still many problems in the process that we will have to overcome,” he said.

The Minister of Council of Agriculture Chen Chi-chung said on Monday that the central government will look into the relevant laws. But he said Taiwan had other endangered species to concern itself with, such as the Formosan black bear: “Personally, I would spend more funds to urge the people to care about them.”

Taiwan is a democracy of 23 million people and has been ruled by the Republic of China government since 1945, when Japan ceded control over the territory. Beijing considers the island to be a breakaway province and refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with countries that recognise it.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.