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China’s ban on Taiwanese pineapples sours sentiment towards Beijing and stokes self-reliance

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 01/03/2021 Lawrence Chung lawrence.chung@scmp.com
a group of people sitting at a fruit stand: Farmers sell pineapples at a stall by the road in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on February 27, 2021. Photo: Reuters © REUTERS Farmers sell pineapples at a stall by the road in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on February 27, 2021. Photo: Reuters

Taiwan has started a self-preservation campaign to counter a pineapple import ban by mainland China as anti-Beijing sentiment flares on the self-ruled island.

The move came after Beijing announced on Friday a ban on Taiwan's pineapples, citing the discovery of pests on the Taiwanese imports "on multiple occasions" since last year.

The surprise announcement, which took effect on Monday, has fuelled public resentment on the island. Relations with the mainland have turned sour since Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.

From government officials to the people and from private to public sectors, voices and activities from the island promoting the sales of the pineapple for local consumption have run high since Beijing announced the ban.

"No need to get panicked and no worries. The government is watching your back," said Tsai as she headed south to Kaohsiung, one of Taiwan's pineapple production centres, on Sunday to ease pineapple farmers' concern.

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She promised the farmers her government would help them open up the global market. She also called on the public, private organisations and government units to support the farmers by buying and consuming local pineapples.

On Sunday, other Taiwanese leaders, including Vice-President William Lai and Premier Su Tseng-chang, also went to southern Taiwan where pineapples are grown in abundance to help farmers promote their products while accusing Beijing of trying to use the ban to punish Taiwan.

Prominent retailers, including PX Mart, I-MEI Foods, Largan Precision which supplies smartphone camera lenses to Apple Inc., and online shopping PChome, on Monday said they had either already put in orders for the fruit - ranging from 30 to 10,000 tonnes (9,800 tons) - or would be doing so to help the local farmers.

The ban has prompted Taiwanese netizens to express their anger through social media posts over the abrupt halt, which Tsai described on a Facebook post on Friday as an ambush on the island.

"It is exactly the same as what they did to Australia! China is in the habit of using politics to force others to accept their unreasonable demands," said a Twitter user, referring to China's bans on the import of an array of Australian products, including wine, lobsters, beef and timber as their relations deteriorated.

In a tweet on Friday, Taiwan's foreign minister Joseph Wu said Beijing was banning Taiwan's pineapples to "punish farmers in the south".

"Remember #Australia's #FreedomWine? I urge like-minded friends around the globe to stand with #Taiwan & rally behind the #FreedomPineapple," he said.

Former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou said it was understandable the ban had hurt the feelings of Taiwanese people because it was abruptly announced during the island's harvest season and more than 95 per cent of Taiwan's pineapple exports went to China.

He said the two sides had signed a farm product inspection and cooperation agreement in 2009 and should put aside their political differences to talk about the issue. The agreement was signed when mainland-friendly Ma was president and adopted a policy to engage Beijing, which considers Taiwan part of its territory that must be returned to its control by force if necessary.

The main opposition Kuomintang said it had coordinated with the authorities in the 14 city and county governments it controls to promote local consumption of the pineapples.

Fan Shih-ping, a political-science professor at National Taiwan Normal University, said the ban was, in reality, a political move to increase pressure on Tsai.

"But ...(it) has served only to fuel the anti-China sentiment and pushed the Taiwanese public further away," he said.

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He said because shipments to the mainland accounted for about 12 per cent of total Taiwanese pineapple exports and because the Taiwanese government had committed to offer NT$1 billion (US$36 million) to help farmers tackle the issue, the impact on Taiwan's pineapple farmers was not very severe.

Taiwan's agriculture minister said on Friday Taipei would spend NT$1 billion on marketing Taiwanese pineapples and safeguarding the income of farmers.

According to official figures, the island produces about 420,000 tonnes of pineapples a year. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit about 12 per cent were designated for export.

Last year, 97 per cent of Taiwan's pineapple exports were destined for the mainland, with 2 per cent going to Japan and 1 per cent to Hong Kong.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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