As China continues to challenge the status quo in East Asia, undercutting democracy and threatening regional stability, the escalation in tensions between the world power and Taiwan, which the former nation views as a rogue state, has forced nations across the world to tread lightly in geopolitical relations in the territory.
Taiwan’s success in battling the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the country onto the world stage, showcasing its economic value and placing renewed interest in its future. Under President Joe Biden’s leadership, American foreign policies continue to shift in favor of Taiwan, with Congressional motions for its inclusion in the United Nations and the authorization of military action in the event of Chinese armed aggression across the Taiwan Strait.
On March 1, China retaliated against the newly forged U.S.-Taiwan relations in a shockingly petty manner: blocking all imports of Taiwanese pineapples, thereby dealing an immense blow to Taiwan’s fresh fruit industry. China attributed this sudden ban to the discovery of 13 mealybugs, an insect known to propagate plant diseases, in pineapple shipments from early 2020. However, according to the USDA, these bugs are common in international trade.
Furthermore, the Taiwanese government has successfully instituted new protocols and quality controls, resulting in the elimination of pest incidents since October 2020. Despite Taiwan’s renewed efforts, the Chinese government continues to cite frivolous biosecurity concerns. Evidently, the Chinese embargo is a political maneuver to intimidate the island nation into submission veiled under a falsified attempt to protect Chinese agriculture.
In an effort to mitigate the effects of the blockade, the Taiwanese government initiated the “freedom pineapple” campaign to promote pineapple sales. This term follows a relatively new trend amongst national governments, using the “freedom product” rebranding to make an indirect political statement against foreign nations. So far, the undertaking has succeeded, leading to unprecedented growth in domestic pineapple demand dwarfing the usual exports to China.
Freedom pineapples have become a symbolic token, unifying the people of Taiwan in solidarity against China’s unfair trade practices to gain political dominance. Taiwanese politicians have rushed to align themselves with the #FreedomPineapple craze and companies have ramped up production of pineapple-related products such as beer and pineapple cakes. In support of the movement, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has pledged $1 billion ($36 million in U.S. dollars) for Taiwanese pineapple farmers and strengthened trade ties with the U.S., Japan, Singapore and Australia.
Additionally, the international community has garnered support for the movement. Two de facto embassies, who host unofficial relations due to China’s refusal to recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty, have since spoken out in unity. The American Institute in Taiwan posted pictures of director Brent Christensen with pineapples on his desk while the Canadian Trade Office posted on Facebook, “We in the Canadian Office like pineapple pizza, especially pineapples from Taiwan.” Such support of Taiwan by the U.S. and Canada is heartening as China exerts mounting pressure on Taiwan through diplomatic and economic means.
The freedom pineapple movement has galvanized public sentiment in Taiwan and harnessed international support across the Pacific Rim. China’s continued efforts to undermine the democracy of Taiwan have been met with little success.
As the world power continues to pressure the sovereign island nation into submission, the strength and will of the Taiwanese people will remain unfaltered. The window of Taiwan-China diplomacy is closing and the continued disputes in the region will inevitably result in military calamity.