Lawmakers from Taiwan's pro-independence opposition on Wednesday blasted a gift of two giant pandas from rival China, calling them "political weapons" meant to help Beijing establish control over the self-governed island.
Underscoring the criticism, two legislative aides from the Democratic Progressive Party paraded in the background wearing panda costumes, mockingly miming past Chinese successes in using "panda diplomacy" to advance Beijing's international agenda.
"Tuan Tuan" and "Yuan Yuan" arrived in Taipei from China's Sichuan province on Tuesday. They were taken to the city's zoo where they will be held for a 30-day quarantine period before going on public display.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen said the purpose of the panda gift was to undermine the pro-independence cause in Taiwan. The two sides split 59 years ago, but China still regards Taiwan as part of its territory.
"China has long used pandas as political weapons and Taiwan is no exception," Tsai said.
Taken in combination Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan mean "reunion" and many Taiwanese believe Beijing hopes the panda gift will pave the way for union between the two.
Lawmaker Twu Shiing-jer called the animals "unification propaganda."
"We should give them new names: 'Independence' and 'Establish a New Country,'" he said.
China initially offered the pandas in 2005 when the DPP was still in power. In keeping with the party's insistence on emphasizing Taiwan's de facto independence, the government declined the offer. Not long after Ma Ying-jeou of the rival Nationalist Party was inaugurated as president in May, the offer of the pandas was accepted.
The Nationalists favor vigorous economic and political engagement with Beijing.
Beijing has given gifts of pandas to make friends and increase its influence in countries including the United States and the former Soviet Union for more than five decades.
The giant panda is unique to China and serves as an unofficial national mascot. China regularly sends the animals abroad as a sign of warm diplomatic relations or to mark breakthroughs in ties.