China renews offer of Pandas to Taiwan

January 31, 2008 5:32:23 AM PST

All preparations have been completed and China hopes the animals "could leave soon" for Taiwan, said Yang Yi, a spokesman for the government's Taiwan Affairs Office.

China first offered the pandas in 2005 to mark a landmark visit by the leader of Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party, which favors eventual unification between Taiwan and the mainland. China later named them "tuantuan" and "yuanyuan" - words that together mean "reunion" in Chinese.

Beijing has repeatedly accused Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian of rejecting the animals for political purposes, part of a creeping campaign to seek the island's permanent independence from the mainland.

Beijing says Taiwan is its own territory, to be reunified by force if necessary.

The Nationalist candidate, Ma Yingjeou, is the heavy favorite to win the March 22 presidential election, in which Chen is constitutionally barred from seeking another term.

China has largely stayed out of the campaign so far, a reflection of past experience when its intervention was seen to have strengthened the pro-independence vote.