Taiwanese farmers feel the pain of the conflict with China

AFP

  • Sjoerd den Daas

    correspondent China

  • Sjoerd den Daas

    correspondent China

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s military exercise around Taiwan may have officially ended, but warships and aircraft still cross the center line of the Taiwan Strait every day. In addition to the continued military display of power, China is also trying to pressure Taiwan in other ways.

At the fresh market in Huangqi village, they don’t care. “China and Taiwan are brothers,” says fish ball seller Yang. “If the little brother doesn’t listen, you have to call him,” he laughs. “We hope for a peaceful reunification. If not, we will not sit idly by and we will resolve it within 72 hours.” Still, what China is doing so far is mainly barking, no biting.

Captivated

Due to continued strict covid restrictions, Taiwanese products were hardly sold here anyway. Traders from the Taiwan-administered Mazu Islands, a few kilometers away, have not been welcome here since the start of the pandemic. The same now applies to Taiwanese scabbard and frozen horse mackerel. Taiwanese citrus fruits have also been banned.

Earlier, China stated that Taiwanese fish had tested positive for corona. Now it claims products contain excessive levels of pesticides and claims scale insects were found in fruit products. Still, it is difficult to separate the sanctions from the visit of Nancy Pelosi – the speaker of the US House of Representatives. The package was already ready. The sanctions took effect just hours after the president landed in Taipei.

“It makes no sense to treat them well if they don’t behave,” says one of the Chinese market traders. The financial impact of the sanctions is limited. Taiwan’s Agricultural Commission estimates the damage at 620 million Taiwan dollars, converted to about 20 million. A fraction of total exports to the People’s Republic of Taiwan, Taiwan’s main trading partner, which consists mainly of chips. That leaves China undisturbed: it desperately needs them.

With the tensions surrounding Taiwan, the chip industry is also back in the spotlight.

For the farmers in Taiwan, who were previously no longer allowed to sell their pineapples in China, it is still a challenge. “Of course there are times when you worry,” said pomelo farmer Lii Sheng-zhong of Madou, Taiwan, of the high tensions. He himself exports about a third of his pomelos to mainland China. “A lot goes to Shanghai and Beijing. I do Hong Kong and also a little bit of Singapore and Japan,” says Lii.

“Now that exports to China have stopped, we have to switch to more domestic sales, there’s not much that can be done about that,” says Lii. He believes the price of his pomelos will be lower as a result. Fellow farmer Liao Tian-deng is in a lower segment and exports less. But it’s annoying timing, with an important holiday just around the corner. “The closer we get to the Mid-Autumn Festival, the bigger the sales are usually.”

Madou District is expanding its horizons, says Sun Tzu-min. “For example, we have exported more to Japan in recent years, and we are working on Canada,” says Sun, from the Farmers’ Federation in Madou. “Storage and transportation is a problem,” Liao says of emerging markets. “It costs a fortune to send regular containers to the US. The prices are even higher for a refrigerated container, and you need that when it’s 40 degrees outside.” Reason for the industry to also focus on processing pomelos for e.g. cleaning agents.

Live happily

“Not ideal,” Liao calls Pelosi’s visit. “I don’t think it helps us much, she’s not a government representative, and the nervousness has increased with that. But if a guest wants to visit, you can’t refuse.”

The latest opinion polls by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation show that the island is divided. A narrow majority of 52.9 percent still agree that Pelosi’s visit has not been canceled. About a third of respondents would rather have seen this.

“Our farmers mainly hope that their products can be sold,” says Sun. “They are less likely to talk about political issues.” Farmer Lii wants that and says when asked that he will not be led by the Chinese intimidation if local elections are planned for the autumn. “There is no presidential election this year,” he says. They are scheduled for 2024. “It may be different, but it has no influence on the election of our mayors and local representatives.”

In Madou, it is especially hoped that the storm of recent weeks, which China used to significantly increase the number of air movements and maneuvers at sea, will subside. “As an adult, I think both sides should be selfless,” said farmer Liao. “Everyone in Taiwan is used to a happy life. War would be a disaster for our children and grandchildren.”

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