China has blocked imports from hundreds of Taiwanese food producers and temporarily suspended exports of natural sand to the country, in what Taipei is taking the lead in a campaign to punish economically over the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Since Monday night, when US and Taiwan officials confirmed that Pelosi will travel to Taiwan to meet President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday, China’s customs administration suspended the import of more than 2,000 of some 3,200 food products from Taiwan.
Beijing has a long history of punishing other countries for behavior it doesn’t like cut them from its market and made extensive use of such levers against Taiwan. But analysts and administration officials said the move was a huge extension of such economic warfare.
“In the past, China hit individual products from the main sector like specific fruits or fish – that’s how they maintained the overall macroeconomic impact on Taiwan limited but can target areas where the Democratic Progressive Party is strong,” said Chiu Choi-cheng, vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s cabinet-level Chinese policy body.
“But now they’re expanding it a lot when they’re targeting processed food, which gives them enormous extortion powers,” Chiu said. “This is probably just the beginning. We are sure that they will further increase their coercive economic measures.”
The imports Beijing has suspended now cover 35 categories including fish and seafood, edible oils, citrus fruits and biscuits and cakes, hitting listed companies such as instant noodle and soy sauce maker Wong and frozen food maker Chi Mei.
China’s customs administration made the import suspension public on its website by displaying “suspended imports” for those Taiwanese companies it said failed to complete registration under new rules.
In early 2021, China banned Taiwanese pineapples, a move Tsai’s government countered with a viral campaign to market the fruit as “pineapple freedom“and “democratic pineapples”, help to open alternative export markets.
Beijing has also blocked imports of wax apples and custard apples, and this year added catfish to the blacklist.
While China has long been an important export market for agricultural and fishery products from Taiwan, these shipments amount to only $200 million annually—a fraction of Taiwan’s total exports to China.
Taiwan imported 5.7 million tons of sand and gravel in 2020, with more than 90% coming from China. The natural sand made up 8 percent of the total, according to government statistics. The country suffered from sand shortages during times of rapid economic growth as it sought to limit sand mining in its rivers to limit damage to the fragile environment.
Officials in Taiwan said they were still assessing the potential damage from the Chinese trade suspensions, but agreed it would be large.
The Chinese Communist Party is very hostile towards Tsai’s DPP, which it describes as “Taiwan independence activists” despite the fact that the party supports maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.
The ban could weaken the DPP in November’s local elections, when voters typically focus on local economic, social and environmental issues.
Taiwan’s government said it would help the companies complete the registration, but added that it had no hope that this would lead to the lifting of the ban.
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