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Explained: Why the latest China-Taiwan clash kicked off the #FreedomPineapple campaign

A few days after it launched the #FreedomPineapple campaign, the Taiwanese government said it had secured enough orders to cover the loss that would have been caused by the Chinese ban.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 22, 2021 9:48:05 am
Taiwan Ambassador Bi-khim Hsiao tweets this picture with the caption: "Time for some Pineapple! #freedompineapple". (Twitter/@bikhim)

Ties between China and Taiwan, which have historically been rocky over issues such as sovereignty, foreign relations and military build-up, are now being tested by an unusual subject – pineapples.

On March 1, China banned the import of pineapples from Taiwan, alleging there was a risk of “harmful creatures” that could threaten its own agriculture.

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Since then, an angry Taiwan has refuted China’s claims of pests being found in imported pineapples, and has gone on to insist that the move is aimed at increasing political pressure on Taiwan, which China considers its own province.

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Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said in a tweet, “After Australian wine, unfair Chinese trade practices are now targeting #Taiwanese pineapples. But that won’t stop us. Whether in a smoothie, a cake, or freshly cut on a plate, our pineapples always hit the spot. Support our farmers & enjoy delicious Taiwanese fruit!”

Bickering over pineapples

Ties between China and Taiwan, despite being controversial, are underpinned by strong trade links. According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), trade between the two amounted to $150.5 billion in 2018, up from $35 billion in 1999. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner, making up nearly 30% of the island’s total trade – which includes commerce in agricultural products.

So, after China said it would stop pineapple imports from Taiwan, the latter expressed fears that the ban could cause a glut of the produce on the island, and cause its price to fall. According to Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture, the island last year exported 10% of the 420,000 tonnes of pineapple that it grows annually, with most of the exports going to China.

Taiwan slammed China’s move, saying that 99.97% of pineapple batches imported by China from the island passed inspection.

Critics blamed China for weaponising its rising economic heft to bully democratic nations that refuse to toe its line, citing the previous example of its trade war with Australia, in which China imposed tariffs on Australian wine and beef imports after the latter asked for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan’s “pineapple challenge”

Following this, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen kicked off a “pineapple challenge” on social media to attract more Taiwanese consumers to buy the fruit and counter China’s move. Tsai Ing-wen belongs to the Democratic Progressive Party, which openly opposes joining China and stands up to it.

Taiwan’s foreign minister also urged “like-minded friends around the globe to stand with #Taiwan & rally behind the #FreedomPineapple”. The call was seconded by the de facto embassies of the US and Canada in Taiwan, who posted pictures on social media professing their love for pineapples from the island, with the US office using the hashtag #pineapplesolidarity.

The campaign also received an enthusiastic response on social media in several other countries, including the UK, US, and India. According to a BBC report, the campaign helped Taiwan receive orders for 5,000 tonnes of the fruit from Japan.

Then, a few days after it launched the #FreedomPineapple campaign, the Taiwanese government said that it had secured enough orders to cover the loss that would have been caused by the Chinese ban.

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The larger dispute between Taiwan and China

Under its “One China” policy, Beijing considers Taiwan a province of China, even though Taiwan is a democratic, self-ruled country. Although the two participate separately in international events, China repeatedly insists that Taiwan should be called “Chinese Taipei”, in efforts to prevent international recognition of Taiwan as a country.

The dispute first began after the surrender of Japan during World War II, when the island of Taiwan was put under Chinese control. Towards the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, and before the post-war treaties were to be signed, members of the Kuomintang party (KMT) were driven out of the mainland by the Communists, who would later establish the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The KMT retreated to Taiwan, becoming a government in exile. For some time, Taiwan was internationally recognised as the government of the Republic of China (RoC), and still officially calls itself so.

Since then, Beijing has asserted sovereignty over Taiwan and has consistently tried to quash attempts signifying independence.

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