Taiwan and China put differences aside to treat seriously-ill panda Tuan Tuan in Taipei

Workers treating sick male panda Tuan Tuan at the zoo in Taipei (Taipei Zoo/AFP via Getty Images)
Workers treating sick male panda Tuan Tuan at the zoo in Taipei (Taipei Zoo/AFP via Getty Images)

Taiwan and China have put their tense geopolitical situation to one side to treat a male panda that has fallen seriously ill.

Taiwan sent an invitation to Chinese veterinary experts on Friday to come to the island and check on 18-year-old Tuan Tuan, who has become increasingly ill in the last few days.

The bear is entering his twilight years and is suspected to have a brain tumour. The vets have been called to provide specialist care for the ailing panda.

Tuan Tuan was donated to Taiwan alongside his breeding partner, Yuan Yuan, by China when the two nations enjoyed warmer relations back in 2008.

The meanings of their names are also symbolic and translate to “reunion” or “union”. China considers the self-governed island to be an integral part of its territory.

“The main purpose is to visit Tuan Tuan and see his present condition,” Eve Wang, animal section chief of Taipei city zoo, told reporters.

“They expressed their desire to come in person to visit Tuan Tuan. I also think it will be a very meaningful trip,” she added.

The date for the visit is not final yet, however, Taiwanese authorities said they were in the process of issuing visas.

The invitation comes as a break from the tension between the two powers, which intensified dramatically after US speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August. Beijing condemned the trip and responded with its largest ever military drills in the Taiwan Strait and around the island.

Observers see China and Taiwan as being closer now to a full-scale war than they have been at any time since their civil war at the end of the Second World War, and the US has said Beijing is pushing for “reunification” with the island much quicker than expected.

But the move to prioritise the panda bear’s health is melting hearts on both sides of the divide.

China’s Global Times newspaper, which regularly mocks and criticises the US and Taiwanese governments, reported the update with online comments of concern from people on the mainland and in Taiwan.

“Thank you for the happiness you and your family brought to me, now I will pray for you,” the newspaper quoted one netizen from Taiwan as writing in tribute to the ailing panda.

“Hope Tuan Tuan can pull through and witness the reunion of the motherland,” a netizen from mainland China was reported as saying on Weibo.

Since their arrival, Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan have become huge attractions in Taiwan and given birth to two female cubs.