Pineapple diplomacy: Why Taiwan is gorging on fruit to counter China's trade bullying

Nicola Smith
·3 min read
Pineapples on display at a grocery store in Taipei - RITCHIE B TONGO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 
Pineapples on display at a grocery store in Taipei - RITCHIE B TONGO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Taiwan’s public has bought up a year’s worth of pineapple exports in just four days - not as part of a new health craze but as a snub to its neighbour China.

Beijing last week abruptly banned the import of Taiwanese pineapples, saying the juicy tropical fruit carried “harmful creatures” that could have infected the crop.

Most of Taiwan’s pineapples are already consumed domestically, but of those exported, 90 per cent of them were sold to China last year.

Taipei believes the move is the latest in a series of coercive policies aimed at damaging the island’s economy. The Chinese Communist Party claims Taiwan, a democratic island of 23 million, as its own territory even though it has never ruled there.

Taiwan’s government says its fruit meets the highest international standards and that the curbs fly “in the face of rules-based, free and fair trade.”

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In response, it has launched a #FreedomPineapple campaign to encourage the public to munch its way through the excess fruit stock.

By Monday, it was reported that Taiwan’s foodie population had already met the challenge - and then some.

“Domestic orders have already surpassed the total sold to China last year,” Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Chi-chung proudly announced, confirming that 41,687 tonnes of local orders had been placed over the weekend.

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In recent years, China has stepped up pressure on the government of President Tsai Ing-wen, including cutting off a revenue-generating stream of tourists.

Beijing has been increasingly accused of using more economic coercion as an arm of its foreign policy over the past year.

Australia faced import curbs on wine, barley and coal after it pushed for an independent inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. It launched a similar campaign to encourage people to buy Australian vintages.

On Thursday, Canberra announced it would start to buy Taiwanese pineapples to help the island, with a first shipment of 6 tonnes due now scheduled for May.

Analysts have suggested that countries subjected to Chinese import bans could try to buy each other’s produce.

“I feel like the "like-mindeds" should set up a "counter-coercion fund" to purchase or facilitate the purchase of -- or find alternative buyers for -- Filipino bananas, Australian wine, Taiwanese pineapples etc. when they're the targets of Beijing's wrath....,” tweeted Tanvi Madan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.