Taiwan Vignette I: The High Cost of Pandas for the Alleged Depressed Economy

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Thursday April 17, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

I have always professed that Ma Ying-jeou was a window dressing mayor and politician and that he promises more of the same as president. But now it seems that Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin is also trying to get in on the act with the panda connection. All this flies in the face of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential campaign issue of the alleged poor state of Taiwan's economy under President Chen Shui-bian. Taiwan voters were sold the bill of goods that the country was suffering from its mere yearly growth of 5.7 per cent. The solution was to elect Ma Ying-jeou to boost the economy. He promised a whopping 6 per cent.

Now comes the window dressing. Already in anticipation that Ma will not be able to deliver on his campaign promises, the KMT and its press are beginning to snow the public that they should forget the economic promises because Taiwan is going to get (drum roll please) pandas.

Yes the high cost of pandas is again on Taiwan's radar. Ma has promised pandas and Hau Lung-bin is directing that the Taipei Zoo to get ready. The zoo has already invested nearly US$ 10 million to prepare a place for these Trojan horse gifts from China. In addition to the preparation cost there will also be at least a US$ one million dollar yearly rental fee that China always hooks the gift of the pandas with. While the rest of the zoo animals must fare with cheap treatment and the Formosan Black Bear will be exiled to the public relations corner.

Forget the economy; Taiwan will have the burden of supporting the pandas. Isn't that a pretty solution? Of course at this point someone will bring up the point that pandas will boost zoo attendance and sell a lot of T-shirts and other cheap paraphernalia. That is true for the first couple of years or so, but if the public does its homework, they will see that other zoos realize that such temporary attendance increases and paraphernalia sales die out in a few years and then the pandas become a financial burden. And the Taiwan voters? Duped by the alleged economic issue of the presidential campaign, they will no doubt be easily side-tracked with the window dressing of pandas. So goes life in the big city.