After the pineapple ban, will Beijing’s sweeteners tempt Taiwan’s farmers?

Mimi Lau
·4-min read

Beijing is offering incentives to lure Taiwanese agriculture and forestry businesses to the mainland, just weeks after a ban on pineapple imports from the island became the latest in a long line of cross-strait irritants.

The State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office announced nearly two dozen government sweeteners on Wednesday, taking effect immediately.

But some Taiwanese exporters and growers were sceptical about the offers, saying such incentives were nothing new.

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The 22 measures unveiled on Wednesday include giving Taiwanese-funded businesses access to agricultural and forest land, financing and research and development, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Taiwanese businesses are also encouraged to develop rural tourism projects and invest in agricultural products like tea, fruit and flowers.

The incentives are part of Beijing’s efforts to promote its five-year plan and come in the wake of the mainland’s ban on pineapples from Taiwan over pest concerns, a move Taipei said violated global trade rules.

Earlier, Beijing barred imports of meat from Taiwan to prevent the spread of bird flu and consumption of the animal feed additive ractopamine. Other tensions have erupted over politics, trade and coronavirus vaccine supplies.

Relations between Beijing and Taipei have plunged since the island’s pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016. Cross-strait tension intensified as the administration of former US president Donald Trump forged stronger ties with Taipei, including increasing high-profile naval missions through the Taiwan Strait.

Zhuang Guotu, head of Xiamen University’s Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, said the measures reflected Beijing’s concern that further worsening of cross-strait relations could jeopardise access to essential advanced technology from Taiwan.

“These [incentives] are more than just lubricants to ease friction – they are pragmatic measures to maintain the international competitiveness of mainland [hi-tech] enterprises, which rely heavily on chips from Taiwan,” Zhuang said, adding that he expected Taipei would welcome the “goodwill gesture”.

‘If they want peaceful exchanges, they shouldn’t have banned our pineapples’: Taiwanese sceptical about Chinese premier’s ‘olive branch’

However, pineapple farmer Kang Chao-tzung, from Tainan in southern Taiwan, said the offers were yet another Beijing gimmick.

“This is the biggest joke I have heard today. If you trust them, you will end up losing everything. It is their usual trick to give you some advantages today only for them to be taken away tomorrow,” Kang said.

“Take the pineapple ban for example. They told us our pineapples were great last year and so we grew more this year hoping to get more profit, but when we sent our pineapples over, they told us they didn’t want them, claiming pest infections and even issuing a ban.

“Now they say they will give us more benefits or so-called equal treatment. Will they be true to their word or will they remove those benefits if they are not happy with us? I don’t believe them at all.”

From Japan to Hong Kong, shoppers snap up Taiwan pineapples in defiance of China ban

Taipei-based fruit exporter Huang Wen-hung said this was not the first time the mainland had offered incentives for Taiwanese people.

“In the past 20 years, many Taiwanese businesspeople have flocked to invest in China but only a few were able to survive,” Huang said.

“More than a decade ago, we went to Zhangzhou [in Fujian province] to invest. They did release a large plot of farmland to us, but it was poor in quality.

“We spent a lot of money improving the soil quality and many local farmers and groups came to us for technical advice. In the end, we lost our edge after they mastered our skills and know-how.”

Chung Chia-pin, legislator from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said the measures involved the typical Beijing tactic of first wooing Taiwanese, then giving them benefits and learning their skills and eventually squeezing them out.

“Their so-called preferential or beneficial treatments for Taiwanese are aimed at making you reliant on them and eventually controlled by them,” Chung said.

“If they can’t steal your know-how, they then poach your talent by paying them triple.”

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