BEIJING -- Setting aside military threats, China yesterday wooed Taiwan with an offer of giant pandas, stepping up a charm offensive that is meant to marginalize Taiwan's president and promote public support for uniting the island with the mainland.
The announcement was made as opposition leader Lien Chan wrapped up an historic visit to China that marked Beijing's biggest effort yet to win Taiwanese hearts after years of missile tests and other menacing gestures.
There was no indication yet that Beijing had changed any minds in Taiwan's deeply polarized populace. Polls by Taiwanese newspapers found public reaction to Lien's trip to be generally positive, but there was no sign of a shift in public views on the cardinal question of whether to unite with China.
Still, the public relations campaign is an abrupt shift for a communist regime that only two months ago passed a law authorizing force if Taiwan moves toward formal independence.
The effort reflects Beijing's undiminished zeal to take control of Taiwan, split from China in 1949 amid civil war, but also its willingness to consider peaceful ways of accomplishing the goal.
With the offer of two pandas, reported by China's official news agency, came a promise to ease restrictions on imports of Taiwanese fruit and let Chinese tourists visit Taiwan -- a hint of how unification could enrich the island.
But even a gift of pandas could be tricky. A similar gesture by Beijing years ago was refused because Taiwan feared it was a ploy to win sympathy for unification. While some Taiwanese officials had been expecting the offer and were already arguing about what to name the animals, others were cautious, and the government set complex guidelines for accepting them.
Beijing hailed the visit by Lien, chairman of Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party, as ''a complete success." But it reacted coolly to an invitation to President Hu Jintao of China to come to Taiwan, saying the island's ruling party must first drop a clause in its constitution calling for formal independence.