Pineapple becomes new symbol of prickly Taipei-Beijing relations after China bans imports

Foreign Affairs

Beijing unexpectedly announced last week that it had found “pests” in Taiwanese pineapples, and banned their import. Taiwan called it an “ambush,” and drew a parallel to China’s targeting of Australian wine.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

Governmental, military, and commercial relations across the Taiwan Strait have taken a hit in recent months. Beijing places blame for tensions on the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan, known for being less China-friendly than its opposition Kuomintang, and is increasing its pressure on the island nation.

  • As one of its last foreign policy moves, the Trump administration announced that it was lifting restrictions on contact between American and Taiwanese officials, angering Beijing.
  • Then, during the first weekend of the Biden administration, China sent dozens of warplanes into the Taiwan Strait, prompting the U.S. State Department to issue a statement castigating Beijing and reaffirming American commitments to Taiwan.
  • At the time, Beijing blamed the DPP, saying that the “root cause of the current tension” was the political party’s supposed inclination toward declaring independence, and “strengthening contacts with external forces.”
  • Beijing has kept up a steady stream of air exercises in Taiwan-claimed airspace, including around the Pratas atoll in the South China Sea, and in the Taiwan Strait itself.

Last week, Beijing banned pineapple imports from Taiwan, saying that it had discovered “pests” in some shipments and the ban was a “routine biosafety precaution.” Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture responded that “pests were found in 13 of 6,200 batches of pineapples since 2020…adding that it received no further report of scale insects since Taipei stepped up export quarantine requirements in October,” SCMP reports.

  • The ban was an “ambush,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 Cài Yīngwén) said on Facebook (in Chinese).
  • Tsai announced that Taiwan would spend NT$1 billion ($36 million) to help its pineapple farmers.
  • Pineapples “account for about 40 per cent of the island’s fruit sales to the mainland,” per SCMP.

Pineapples are politically pivotal in Taiwan: Though “agriculture accounts for less than 2% of Taiwan’s $710 billion technology-dominated economy, farmers and related sectors remain an important constituency in Taiwanese politics, especially in the south,” Bloomberg reports.

“After Australian wine, unfair Chinese trade practices are now targeting Taiwanese pineapples,” Tsai tweeted on February 26, drawing a parallel to economic pressure that Beijing put on Australian goods last year.

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