China loves to brag that it is home to a market of 1.4 billion consumers, and it frequently uses this statistic to entice Taiwan and other countries into its poisonous embrace.
Time and again, Beijing has employed a “cultivate, trap, kill” strategy. This entails using the allure of the market to attract foreign investment and businesses to set up production facilities, and then steal their agricultural and industrial technologies and use their know-how to develop its own firms.
Once these domestic competitors are powerful enough, Beijing uses every excuse under the sun to impose restrictions on the import of foreign products.
Due to their overexposure to the Chinese market, to which they now have no access, many of the foreign companies are forced out of business. In the final step, the Chinese competitors move in and mop up their overseas markets.
For example, a milk fish exporter in Tainan’s Syuejia District (學甲) several years ago signed an agreement with a Chinese company, which then turned around and resold the milk fish back into the Taiwanese market at rock-bottom prices.
It was a direct attack on the Taiwanese market and caused immense damage. It serves as a lesson on the threat posed by China’s mercantilist policies.
This strategy is often extremely effective, but this time Beijing’s diabolical scheming to destroy Taiwan’s pineapple industry looks set to backfire in its face.
This is because China on annual average imports only little more than 50,000 tonnes of pineapples from Taiwan.
Last year, as a result of COVID-19, this fell to 40,000 tonnes. Taiwanese have realized that China’s much-vaunted 1.4 billion consumers did not add up to that much after all: It is all just brag and bluster.
Taiwan’s population of 23 million is minuscule by comparison, yet Taiwan every year imports 17 billion yuan (US$2.62 billion) of beer from China.
Irked by China’s pineapple embargo, Taiwanese consumers and firms quickly bandied together to support local pineapple farmers: Within just two days, Taiwanese had pledged to buy nearly 20,000 tonnes of local pineapples, and within four days, the lost sales had been by made up for by domestic demand.
Not only have Beijing’s pineapple shenanigans come back to bite it, the episode has spurred Taiwanese to decouple the nation’s economy from China’s and stirred talk of a reciprocal beer boycott.
If Taiwanese consumers were to unite around a boycott of Chinese beer, not only would it deal a double-whammy to Beijing, but it would also prove that Taiwan no longer has to suffer in silence and meekly submit to Beijing’s bullying.
In the future, China’s leaders might be deterred from weaponizing trade as part of its “united front” strategy now that the cat is out of the bag.
Most important, the “pineapple war” has united Taiwanese perhaps as never before, and this cohesive spirit will only grow stronger should Beijing rashly decide to further antagonize Taiwan.
John Yu is a civil servant.
Translated by Edward Jones
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