The Liberty Times Op-Ed: Ending food ban to mend ties to Japan

At the 45th session of the Taiwan-Japan Economic and Trade Conference on January 11, Japan expressed concern over Taiwan’s ban on imports of Japanese food products from five prefectures following the disaster. of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in March 2011. Japan said it hoped Taiwan would follow international standards in reviewing scientific data to lift the ban, as did Europe and the United States have done it.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) responded the following day, saying that the government, with the protection of public health as a priority, would tackle food import restrictions and bilateral negotiations based on the international standards and scientific evidence.

The Taiwanese and Japanese governments are seeking solutions to the problem through serious and frank communication, while seeking public support to reduce the potential for political interference and manipulation of the problem by opposition parties.

As Hiroyasu Izumi, representative of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, said, Japan is waiting for Taiwan’s determination.

On March 11, 2011, the Tohoku earthquake triggered a tsunami that led to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster that damaged several reactors and caused radioactive leaks. Fourteen days later, the administration of then-President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) imposed a ban on agricultural and food imports from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba prefectures, and demanded that nine categories of food imported from Japan suffers from residual radiation. checks.

Faced with the possibility of radioactive foods due to a nuclear accident, the restrictions were initially necessary, but over time and the situation has become clearer, most countries have fully or partially lifted these bans.

The Ma administration did not follow the trend, but imposed even stricter measures, requiring from 2015 that all food imported from Japan include a certificate of origin, and that certain foods from specific regions have a radioactivity test certificate.

Ma’s pro-China and anti-Japan stance led to a “cross-strait synchronization” of the Japanese food import ban. His obsession with Chinese identification might be one of the reasons for this post. Observers said the ban was a political move that considered its implications for Taiwan’s relationship with China – and by imposing stricter bans, the next administration’s leeway to ease them would be limited.

Meanwhile, the Ma administration was doing its best to open Taiwan’s market to China, which showed that its strict ban on Japanese food imports was motivated by the pro-China and anti-Japanese stance of the administration, rather than its concern for people’s health.

The Ma administration also let the term “irradiated food” mislead people, as it was used to label and stigmatize food from the five prefectures, which only fomented panic.

When the Tsai administration called a hearing to review the policy shortly after taking office, protesters dressed in black heckled officials and hampered the government’s attempt to communicate with the public.

The ban not only undermines Taiwan-Japan friendship, but also makes Taiwan’s measures against Japanese food imports increasingly obsolete in the international community.

The pan-blue camp continued to mislead the public and even launched a campaign for a referendum in November 2018 against importing food produced in the five prefectures. During the campaign, supporters continued to argue that the food put people’s health at risk, calling it “the referendum against irradiated food”.

The Tsai administration misjudged the situation and ignored the noise rather than defending its policy – ​​which amounted to withdrawing from the battlefield – and the referendum passed.

Due to restrictions imposed by the Referendum Law (公民投票法), the Tsai administration over the next two years was unable to remedy the food import ban, which disappointed those from Taiwan and Japan who called for closer ties between the countries.

Although then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was friendly with Taiwan and the countries continue to share close ties, the referendum more or less undermined Japan’s support for Taiwan.

Although Japan has sent positive signals to Taiwan by joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), championed by Abe, Taiwan’s progress in joining the trading bloc has been delayed by a trade barrier that imposed himself.

Ma’s pro-China policy has already hindered Taiwan’s internationalization. If Taiwan lacks the determination to move forward, it will be caught in a trap of its own making.

On the other hand, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Taiwan and caused a surge in local cases in May last year, Japan was the first country to reach out and donate vaccines to Taiwan. Tokyo donated a total of 4.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Taipei, making Japan Taiwan’s top donor.

Unlike the Chinese government, which initially allowed COVID-19 to go unnoticed and spread and does its best to suppress Taiwan’s vaccine procurement efforts, Japan has proven to be a close partner to Taiwan through to his generous donations, while the United States also made donations. 4 million doses of vaccines, strengthening its ties with Taiwan.

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged, China imposed more military pressure on Taiwan and banned some Taiwanese imports of agricultural and fishery products without notice. His actions show that Ma’s pro-China policies have only led to the victimization of farmers and fishermen in Taiwan, making them prey to the Chinese Communist Party.

These stark contrasts allow Taiwanese to see the truth more clearly and become more determined to distance themselves from China and embrace the world.

For a referendum last month, the pan-blue camp even proposed a question on whether to ban imports of pork containing ractopamine residues, but voters rejected the proposal. This result sent a signal to the world that Taiwanese are determined to join the international community and that Taiwan is ready to welcome free and open international trade.

The issue of Japanese food imports facing the Tsai administration should be approached with the same mindset. Based on statements by the Taiwanese and Japanese governments, they agree that the matter should be handled according to the principles of “international standards and scientific evidence”.

Such a rational attitude should also be adopted by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and other opposition parties, rather than trapping themselves in their own political positions to oppose the government just for the sake of opposing it.

The import ban issue has not been resolved for many years, and Taiwan and China are just some of the countries that still impose a complete ban on Japanese food imports. This year marks the 50th anniversary of China-Japan diplomatic relations. Taiwan would be embarrassed if Beijing eased the ban on Japanese food imports before Taipei.

Demonstrating determination to lift the embargo on Japanese food imports would not improve Taiwan’s relations with Japan, but would increase its chances of joining the CPTPP.

Translated by Lin Lee-kai

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