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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Time to drop Fukushima food ban

Time to drop Fukushima food ban

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The lifting of a ban on the importation of pork containing traces of ractopamine will help Taiwan set up international trade partnerships.

Now that the referendum chaos is left behind, the ban will not be reinstated. Taiwanese voters turned their backs on mindless populism in favor of rationality, demonstrated exceptional maturity, and acted as an impressive check and balance on the political process.

Three years ago, Taiwanese who were opposed to the importation of food products from northeastern Japan started labeling them “nuclear foods” and pushed for the world’s first and only “anti-nuclear food referendum.”

The governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) did not challenge the referendum question head-on, and voters took fright at the word “nuclear.” The referendum question, put to a vote alongside a slew of other questions in the chaotic 2018 nine-in-one elections, passed.

The 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster was a national trauma for Japan, and Taiwan’s unexpected move was akin to rubbing salt in its wounds.

Taiwan-friendly then-Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe refrained from commenting on the situation, leaving this to then-Japanese minister of foreign affairs Taro Kono, and did not take any retributive actions toward Taiwan.

Japan has since had a change of leadership. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is a member of the influential Kochikai faction of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has had ties with China for six decades.

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Japan and China in September next year, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) gave Kishida a congratulatory telephone call after he was elected prime minister.

Kishida also conformed to China’s expectations by designating the China-friendly Yoshimasa Hayashi as minister for foreign affairs — an olive branch toward China.

The Japanese House of Councilors election is scheduled for July next year. Considering the strong anti-China sentiment among Japanese, the Kishida administration would not dare blatantly go against the will of the public. Taiwan and US-friendly members of the party have been pressuring Kishida to clarify the LDP’s stance on Taiwan-US-China policy.

Kishida has voiced support for Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly and its bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

If Taiwan can take this opportunity to lift the ban on Japanese food imports from areas affected by the nuclear disaster as a sign of good faith, not only would it look good for both Kishida and Taiwan-friendly members of his party, it might also bring solace to the victims of the 2011 events. Why not push for a policy that can kill two birds with one stone?

The successful 2018 referendum — on imposing a blanket ban on the importation of food and agricultural products from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures — at the time dashed Taiwan’s hopes of joining the CPTPP.

None of the CPTPP members have diplomatic ties with Taipei, so if Taiwan wishes to join, it needs the US and Japan as mediators.

Had the pork import ban referendum — promoted by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) — succeeded, it would have offended the US. Taiwanese rejected that.

If the KMT also continues to provoke Japan, there will be little hope for the party of ever returning to power.

As for the 2018 referendum, Taiwanese said “no” to radioactive contamination in foods, not all foods from northeastern Japan.

The KMT’s opposition for opposition’s sake is likely to fade away. When the nation was facing a shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, and a Chinese import ban on pineapples and wax apples, Japan stood by Taiwan.

It is high time to return the favor and lift the ban on Japanese food imports.

Wang Hui-sheng is chief director of the Kisai Ladies’ and Children’s Hospital in Japan.

Translated by Rita Wang

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2021/12/27

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