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Taiwan hearing on Japan food ban canceled after erupting in chaos

Kyodo

The first of three public hearings on whether Taiwan should ease its ban on Japanese food imports imposed after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis was canceled Sunday amid shouting, table pounding, and physical altercations.

Hundreds of protesters mobilized by the main opposition Kuomintang clashed with police outside the hearing venue in New Taipei City. A truck parked outside bore placards calling President Tsai Ing-wen “Japan’s servile follower” and demanding her resignation.

Participants allowed inside criticized organizers for blocking people outside from entering. One opponent who prepared her own microphone said the hearings are meaningless because Tsai has the final say on the matter.

In addition to the protest in the morning, KMT also organized a march in Taipei during the afternoon.

When the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple core meltdown, Taiwan banned food imports from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi, and Chiba prefectures, and began conducting random radiation checks on nine categories of imported foods.

The Tsai administration recently formulated a plan to relax the ban in two stages.

Under the proposal, Taiwan plans to keep in place its ban on the import of all food products from Fukushima but conditionally allow imports of certain products from the other four prefectures.

The first stage of the plan will serve as a reference for the further relaxation of restrictions in the second stage, possibly about six months later.

Sunday’s public hearing, video conferencing with participants on the outlying Matsu Islands and streamed live on the internet, was the first of three the administration promised to hold after 10 were held across the island last month.

The KMT criticized the Tsai government for holding the 10 hearings in three days, questioning whether it has made a secret deal with Japan in exchange for something.

The administration then decided to hold three more, one in New Taipei on Sunday, another in Kaohsiung in the south on Jan. 2, and the third in Taipei on Jan. 8.

During Sunday’s hearing, opponents alleged that the event was improperly organized and that documents were not provided in an appropriate manner.

The organizers decided to cancel the event but allowed participants to voice opinions in the afternoon, calling it a discussion session.

The morning session began with chaos, with participants shouting, throwing documents and pounding and jumping on the tables.

KMT Vice Chairman Hau Lung-bin argued that Sunday’s hearing was “illegal” and “meaningless” because the Tsai administration has already planned to ease the ban.

Hau, who initiated a signature drive to endorse a referendum on whether to relax the ban, said the administration is duty-bound to explain the possibility of it using the ban easing as a bargaining chip in exchange for a trade deal with Japan and how such a trade deal will benefit Taiwan.

KMT legislator Wang Yu-min said Chiou I-jen, chairman of the Association of East Asian Relations, Taiwan’s semi-official agency handling the island’s relations with Japan, should attend Sunday’s public hearing because he is responsible for negotiating the trade deal.

She also argued the administration is in no position to talk about the government’s plan to ease the ban because it cannot ensure food safety, citing the recent discovery that packets of soy sauce subject to the ban entered the country illegally.

Following the discovery, the Executive Yuan, or Cabinet, said before a mechanism is established to ensure the safety of food products imported from the five prefectures and public confidence in the government is restored, easing the ban is not an option.

It also emphasized that the government does not have any set position and there is no timetable set for easing the ban.