A Taiwan zoo has released a 'hostage photo' of one of its pandas posing with newspapers to dissipate rumours the animal symbol of good relations with China was dead. The proof-of-life image depicting 11-year-old Tuan Tuan holding the bars of its cage was uploaded on Facebook by the Taipei Zoo after Chinese media published unconfirmed reports that the panda had died of distemper.

A number of daily papers were displayed in front of the enclosure as evidence of the date. "Need to add anything?" the caption read. "Don't listen to internet rumours".

Reports that the giant panda had died had caused a stir across China and Taiwan given the related political overtones. Tuan Tuan, whose name means "reunion", and its pal Yuan Yuan were gifted by Beijing to Taiwan in 2008 as a show of goodwill after the election of China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou in the island nation.

Critics said that the panda's name hinted at Beijing's ambition to return Taiwan under its complete control. Rumours of Tuan Tuan's premature demise started circulating as Ma's successor, Tsai Ing-wen, a strong supporter of Taiwan's independence, was about to take office.

The fake story was published by China's Communist Party's mouthpieces Global Times and People's Daily, which later issued a correction and apology.

Taiwan panda hostage photo
Giant panda Tuan Tuan is seen in a proof of life photo released by the Taipei Zoo Taipei Zoo