TAIPEI, Jan 9 (AP) -- Taiwan's premier said Monday the island was unlikely to accept the offer of two pandas from rival China because doing so could undermine Taiwanese sovereignty.
China announced last week it had picked a pair of pandas for shipment to Taiwan, offered last year during a visit by a prominent Taiwanese opposition leader and aimed at boosting support on the self-ruled island for with the communist mainland.
Pictures of the one-year-old bears eating bamboo were featured prominently in local media, capturing the hearts of many Taiwanese.
However, Premier Frank Hsieh said Monday the panda deal was unlikely to happen.
"We cannot compromise our sovereignty," he told reporters at a Taipei business conference. "The likelihood of the pandas coming to Taiwan is pretty low."
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. Since then Beijing has used a blend of threats and diplomacy to try to bring the self-governing entity back into its fold, including offering trade concessions and appealing to Taiwanese public opinion.
Hsieh and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party see moves like the panda offer as ploys to whittle away at Taiwan's de facto independence, and create momentum toward unification.
Hsieh said that for pandas to enter Taiwan, China would have to abide by the rules of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and allow Taiwan to sign an agreement as an "importing country" -- something he said was a practical impossibility.
"China could not possibly agree to recognize Taiwan as an (independent) country," he said.
Taiwan's Council of Agriculture said last week it will seek views of conservationists and other experts and decide by March 23 whether to approve the pandas' import.