Thursday, August 25, 2005


China launches "Mango Offensive" against Taiwan

In a transparent effort to undermine support for Taiwan’s pro-independence government, communist China has unilaterally dropped or reduced import tariffs on mangoes, papayas, pineapples, starfruit and other produce cultivated in Taiwan’s southern region, an area which has strongly supported the DPP, Taiwan’s ruling party.

The Chinese trade initiative is aimed only at mangoes and other fruit produced in the south, where farmers have seen profits declining because of overproduction, and seem clearly targeted at influencing the Taiwanese local elections scheduled for December.

That [declining profitability] may change this month as China opens its doors wide to Taiwan produce, axing import tariffs on 15 fruits from August 1 to curry favor with farmers in the island's South, many of whom are staunch supporters of pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian.

Taiwan's leader is warning farmers against what he calls China's reunification ploy, saying Beijing is trying to erode his grass-roots voter base and make the self-ruled island of 23 million people more economically dependent on the mainland.

Given the relative sizes of China and Taiwan, China may believe that it can simply swallow Taiwan whole by absorbing its economy, and the mango offensive may actually be a first step in that direction.

While hardcore supporters like Chen Yan-hai stand firmly behind the DPP, others say Beijing's maneuvers will likely boost support for opposition parties like the Kuomintang (KMT), which oppose Taiwanese independence, ahead of local county elections to be held across Taiwan in December.

"The middle-of-the-road voters with no strong party affiliations will see their fruit being sold in China and think the KMT can better take care of the farmers," said Yan Kuo-hsian, a supply and marketing chief for Yuching's farmers association.

China decided to scrap the fruit tariffs after meeting with opposition leaders and pledging to work with them to boost trade ties across the Taiwan Strait. Beijing refuses to deal directly with the Chen government.

Members of the DPP say they are worried the issue will take center stage at end-year election campaigns.

"China's tariff policy definitely has a political objective, which is to get votes away from the DPP," said Chou Rong-hui, director of the party's Yuching branch, whose office is a tin shed next to the farmers association.

One bizarre aspect of this economic ploy is that the communist mainland is dealing directly with Taiwanese opposition parties, as related above, and with Taiwanese trade groups which have tended to support the pro-independence government:

Besides unilaterally canceling the import tariffs, Beijing has also called for talks with Taiwanese farm groups on revising customs rules to further smooth the way of farm exports to China.

Obviously, there are some aspects of the China-Taiwan relationship which would seem very unfamiliar to us. Can you imagine the government of China openly negotiating with the Democrats or labor unions in this country in order to work out trade terms that would undermine the US government?

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