Taipei Zoo was preparing Thursday to celebrate the 14th birthday of a pair of giant pandas which were given to Taiwan by China, at a time when cross-strait relations are at their lowest ebb in years.
To mark the occasion, zookeepers have given Tuan Tuan a "treasure box" birthday cake filled with bamboo shoots, carrots, sugar cane and grapes, an epa-efe photographer reported from the zoo.
Tuan Tuan and his sister, Yuan Yuan, who turn 14 on Friday and Saturday respectively, were gifted by Beijing in 2008 as part of an exchange program. When combined to read Tuan Yuan, their names mean "unification" in Chinese.
The exchange program with Taiwan bears is similar to Beijing's policy known as "panda diplomacy", whereby China loans the animals, which are native to the country's central mountainous regions, to countries worldwide as a gesture of goodwill. The initiative began in 1984, when the species was declared endangered.
The pair at Taipei Zoo were given to Taiwan rather than loaned in 2008, shortly after former President Ma Ying-jeou, who sought improved ties with Beijing, had taken power. Critics at the time dismissed the pandas as a propaganda tool for mainland China, which sees Taiwan as a breakaway province and does not recognize its independence.
The birthdays were being celebrated amid deteriorating cross-strait relations; Taiwan has recently lost several diplomatic allies to Beijing.
The island nation has been left with just 17 allies, after El Salvador, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Burkina Faso and Sao Tome and Principe switched their allegiances to Beijing in the past year.