On February 9, the Tsai administration in Taiwan announced the lifting of a ban on the import of food from Japan’s prefectures affected by the Fukushima disaster in 2011. The move was not exactly unexpected, taking place after weeks of speculation.
Fukushima’s food import ban has long been a stumbling block to closer economic relations between Taiwan and Japan, and the Tsai administration’s decision to lift the ban is widely seen as a call for support. admission to the Japan-led CPTPP. At the same time, lifting the ban would expose the Tsai administration to criticism that it endangers the food security of Taiwanese, as the issue of food imports from Fukushima has been the subject of controversy in the past.
A 2018 national referendum backed by the pan-blue camp rejected the idea of restarting food imports from Fukushima. Still, the Tsai administration’s willingness to move forward with lifting the ban reflects the strength of its current stance, particularly following a referendum vote that took place in December.
Taiwan’s ban on food imports from Japan’s Fukushima, Chiba, Gunma, Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures lasted 11 years. Batch inspections of eight different food categories from prefectures across Japan began on March 15, 2011, with a ban enacted on March 26 of the same year. This took place under the administration of KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou.
The KMT has already announced its intention to protest the lifting of the ban. Ironically, the KMT has also been a strong supporter of nuclear power in Taiwan, with the KMT pushing for a referendum vote against nuclear power phase-out targets in 2018. As a result, the KMT was at the same time campaigning for a continuation of nuclear while campaigning against food imports from Fukushima.
In contrast, current President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has always been critical of nuclear power in Taiwan, believing that frequent seismic activity in Taiwan makes it vulnerable to a nuclear disaster similar to the one that has ravaged Fukushima. . Anti-nuclear activism by Taiwanese civil society dovetailed with the pan-Green camp in the years leading up to Tsai’s 2016 election victory.
But as a pro-China party in Taiwanese politics, the KMT opposes closer relations with Japan. The KMT’s animosity with Japan stems from lingering historical grudges dating back to the Sino-Japanese War. It is not surprising that the KMT has a political incentive to make the Fukushima food import issue an obstacle to closer relations between Taiwan and Japan, even as the DPP hopes to strengthen economic relations with Japan in order to to increase the political incentive for Japan to defend Taiwan against the threat of Chinese invasion.
The Tsai administration had similar goals of strengthening political and economic relations with the United States when it announced its intention to lift the long-standing ban on the import of American pork into Taiwan in September 2020 and adopted a bill to that end in December 2020. This had also long been a contentious issue, with concerns over the use of the growth hormone ractopamine in American pork. Ractopamine is not used in 180 of the world’s approximately 200 countries, posing safety concerns in Taiwan. However, the U.S. pork ban has long been an obstacle to U.S.-Taiwan trade talks, especially trade talks that could potentially lead to a bilateral trade deal.
In response, the KMT campaigned against American pork imports and lobbied for a national referendum on the issue. However, this was an issue on which the KMT and the DPP exchanged positions. The KMT had proposed lifting barriers to American pork under the Ma administration, opposed by Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP, which then acted as the opposition.
While the KMT managed to obtain the number of signatures needed to hold the referendum, its position was rejected in the vote, which took place in December 2021. Not only did the referendum fail to reach the required number of votes to be binding, but the KMT’s four referendum proposals – including the issue of banning pork in the United States – received fewer votes than the positions demanded by the DPP. As such, the referendum resulted in a resounding victory for the DPP.
Tsai and the DPP’s position was further cemented by a recall vote in January against independent Pan-Green lawmaker Freddy Lim in Taipei and a by-election to fill the seat formerly held by Chen Po-wei of the Pan-Green Party of Taiwan state building. The recall vote against Lim failed to meet the criteria required to be binding, and the by-election resulted in a victory for the DPP’s Lin Ching-yi.
It was probably because of Tsai’s current position of strength that she agreed to lift the barriers on pork imports from Fukushima. Admittedly, it’s worth noting that Tsai decided to move on this in her second term, rather than her first term, even though she does so with enough time in her term (which will end in 2024) that ‘she is not currently considered a lame duck. By lifting the ban, Tsai and the DPP are taking a calculated risk that the move will not affect the party’s performance in local elections later this year. But the Tsai administration can expect the KMT’s efforts to attack the DPP on the issue to be unsuccessful.
For its part, the Tsai administration made a point of stressing that the lifting of the ban is not total, wild game and mushrooms still being among the prohibited food products, and that Taiwan and China are the only countries to maintain the food ban, with Macau and Hong Kong having relaxed requirements. Similarly, the Atomic Energy Council has announced that it will expand its food testing capacity nationwide.
It remains to be seen whether the Tsai administration will institute some sort of food labeling system to show whether food comes from Japanese prefectures affected by Fukushima, as it did with the labeling of US pork imports. Taipei’s pan-blue mayor Ko Wen-je has suggested he could maintain the ban in certain areas of the city, raising the possibility that other pan-blue mayors will do the same.
Since the Tsai administration announced these plans, the KMT has accused the DPP of violating Taiwan’s democratic institutions by ignoring the 2018 referendum. But the KMT’s accusations against the Tsai administration of violating democratic institutions are not news, with the opposition party having spent years accusing the Tsai administration of waging a “green terror” worse than the “white terror” it waged during martial law. period. The KMT also accused the Tsai administration of being “dictatorial” for lifting the US pork ban. But given the December referendum results, such accusations have not found fertile ground in Taiwan’s domestic politics. The Tsai administration can also count on a similar public response this time around.
It is not impossible that the Tsai administration will cause a backlash within the pan-green camp itself over its change on Fukushima food imports and US pork, as well as a controversial incident in which Tsai spoke at the opening of a memorial park to the former dictator. Chiang Ching-kuo. Part of Tsai’s strong position right now is reflected in her success in getting her own party to align on the issue of lifting the Fukushima food import ban. . Yet it could also open Tsai up to criticism for being too conservative from other elements of the DPP.