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The Battle of the Pork: The Uproar in Taiwan

There are many ways tensions can be raised in countries. Political friction, presidential elections and government decisions over health concerns are just some of the things we’re experiencing right now in the West. Taiwan on the other hand has recently had one of the strangest causes of unrest between its citizens and has even ended in physical confrontations between opposition lawmakers. This violent outburst in Taiwan was caused by nothing more than sweet juicy American pork.

How could the spectrum of pork products cause such an uproar in Taiwan? There are so many rabbit-holes to this story that need to be dissected one step at a time. To really understand what’s going on, we have to go back right to the beginning.

 

Tensions With China

Tensions between Taiwan and China have existed ever since 1949 when Chinese nationalists escaped to the island following their defeat in the country’s civil war against the communists. Ever since Taiwan has functioned as its own independent nation and since the late 80s has been a legitimate democracy. However, China disagrees and has always seen Taiwan as theirs. They see it as only a matter of time before they claim it back.

Taiwan American pork
Chinese military guard at Tiananmen Square

For the past few decades, both sides have maintained a status quo, allowing the other to have their own beliefs and agreeing to disagree. However, this year has seen a sudden and dramatic rise in tensions between the two. Chinese government officials have threatened the use of military action if Taiwan resists “reunification”, and an increased number of military drills have been focusing on beach assaults and their aerial capabilities. Chinese aircraft have also intentionally been crossing the median line, used to separate the two nation’s claimed territories, almost on a daily basis. It’s safe to say that tensions are higher than ever before.

 

Birth of a New Friendship

Ironically, Taiwan isn’t the only nation that China has tensions with. China’s relationship with the US has soured in recent years, with any cooperation or trade deals between the two mega powers all but vanishing. Both egotistical nations are currently in the midst of a dick-measuring contest and are looking to undermine each other or show their superiority whenever possible. For that, Taiwan provides the perfect opportunity.

The US has been cosying up to Taiwan for the past few months, more than ever before. On more than one occasion America has very publically declared their support for Taiwan. They also look keen to establish closer ties with the country that finds itself a short boat ride away from China’s coast. Despite the newly blossomed friendship, there are some pretty obvious ulterior motives.

 

What’s In It For Taiwan?

Taiwan has made a very powerful ally. It could not come at a better time as China seems to be preparing for a full-scale invasion of the nation they’re claiming as theirs. In the past, nothing has been able to stop the Chinese from taking what they want. We’ve seen that in Tibet and Mongolia or more recently in Hong Kong. Without any support, there’s very little that can be done to stop them. However, China must now be very wary of the steps they take. It’s one thing to cross Taiwan, its something completely different to cross the United States. 

Taiwan American pork
Taiwanese military guard

Not only does Taiwan have someone to watch over them, but they’ve also been given the tools to take care of themselves. The US has agreed to eight separate arms deals this year alone, totalling around 6 billion dollars. These deals have significantly increased Taiwan’s arsenal with weapons that would be incredibly effective against a Chinese invasion. This has also given China even more to consider before making any rash decisions.

 

What’s In It For the US?

America is like the guy who blatantly flaunts his new girlfriend in front of his ex. America doesn’t actually care about Taiwan, it’s all about getting back at China. Taiwan is seen as nothing more than a tool to aggravate and a way to passive-aggressively threaten China. The US has never stated they would defend Taiwan, just suggestions of support. They may have helped Taiwan to better defend itself, but there’s no indication they would step in if things escalated. This way they’ll have someone who can do their dirty work for them if China ever steps out of line.

 

What Does This Relationship Mean?

Though Taiwan is obviously being used, don’t feel too bad for them, as they’re getting the biggest benefits from this relationship. Taiwan finds itself in China’s crosshairs, somewhere that’s historically been a very dangerous place to be. Now having such a powerful and strategic ally is incredibly reassuring. 

Of course, neither side would point out this is the basis of their entire relationship, but it does give an opportunity to cooperate in other ways. One of which is to increase trade between the two nations, such as with the multi-billion-dollar arms deal. This was an enormous favour from America, and naturally, nothing in this world is free. 

Taiwan is now indebted to the United States, which isn’t a comfortable place to be. America expects the favour to be repaid, and one way that can be done is by accepting trade deals they otherwise would have avoided. One resource has long been seen as an obstacle in trying to sign a trade deal between the two nations. That roadblock was Taiwan ‘s refusal to purchase sweet delicious American pork.

 

The Pork Problems

Not only has Taiwan begun accepting imports of US pork, but they’ve had to end the long-running ban on importing it. In fact, 160 countries across the world still ban imports on this meat too, including every EU country, Russia and even China. Why?

The meat contains the additive ractopamine, which most countries find harmful, though countries like the US, Canada and Mexico disagree. The additive is used in animal feed to promote leanness and better conversion of food energy. Several scientific studies have shown that the additive has adverse effects on humans, which is linked to causing heart problems such as tachycardia and general increases of heart rate. Other side effects include tremors, headaches, muscle spasms and higher blood pressure. These effects could potentially lead to strokes, heart attacks and other heart-related issues.

Statistics from the World Health Organisation

The majority of the world agrees that the additive is dangerous and any meat products containing it should be banned. Some countries disagree or, more frighteningly, do not care. The fact that this additive could potentially lead to serious heart issues should be a huge concern. Particularly when considering that, according to the World Health Organisation, heart diseases are the highest causes of deaths throughout the world.

 

America Pushing Pork

Turns out this is a very familiar US tactic. On more than one occasion, the US has stated that trade deals can only be reached if nations accept a deal for American pork. If they were to refuse, they run the risk of losing the deal altogether. This occurred in Thailand when the country lost a lucrative 817 million dollars over their refusal to purchase American pork. The US found more success in convincing Japan and is currently pressuring the UK to make the same decision.

Taiwan pork
The Taiwanese are big fans of their pork

The fact they’re having to force their products on other nations speaks to volumes to why nobody wants it in the first place. These nations believe it’s harmful, yet the US is holding nations over a barrel, forcing them to accept the deal. Taiwan found itself in this situation and had no choice but agree to start purchasing American pork.

 

A Public Backlash

Almost immediately, the pork deal in Taiwan has caused outrage. Both the public and opposition parties have objected to the import of the product they believe to be harmful. Citizens were appalled by the fact that their government in essence was willing to sacrifice their citizens’ health in return for a tighter relationship with the US. 

No backlash was more fierce than in the parliament building between the opposition parties. Across the world, it’s common for democratic governments to undergo heated debates and protesting decisions. Quick jibes and insults might be thrown at each other, but rarely more than that. Taiwan on the other hand does things a little differently.

 

A Punch-up Over Pork 

The opposition party in Taiwan, the KMT, protested in parliament against the decision taken by the current party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). They believed that voicing their disapprovals and debating their concerns wasn’t going far enough. Instead, they had a more hard-hitting protest. The KMT brought along bags and buckets full of pig guts which they poured onto the debating chamber’s floor and began throwing them towards opposition members. As things escalated, punches were even thrown between party members while others were thrown to the floor.

Just Another Day

If this chaos happened in any western parliament, it would be national news for weeks. There would be outrage that a democratic nation could fall to such immature and barbaric behaviour. For the Taiwanese lawmakers, this is just another day in the office.

The typical “violence” we experience in Western courts.

As often as a few times a week, opposing party members will come to blows over any and every aspect of government. It’s simply become the norm. Throwing chairs, water balloons, barricading doors, wrestling, hair pulling and fistfights, its all par for the course. Party members take every step they can to silence their opposition and have their laws passed. 

Though it may look dramatic, that’s all it’s really meant to achieve. Many of these fights stem from pure anger, others are just to make a statement. Representatives might feel they need to show support for their party or look as if they really care. Sometimes party members don’t even know what they’re fighting over! It’s a very tribal affair, fighting for your team no matter what.

 

Echoing the Public’s Opinion

Despite the extreme nature of the protest, they do echo the sentiments of the Taiwanese people. Marches of protest have already taken place before the parliament building. People are calling the current government hypocrites, for suddenly changing their mind on the safety of the meat now that they’ve been offered of a trade deal.

Taiwan pork
American pork will be an unwelcome sight in any supermarket

Importers which make over 80% of the pork industry in Taiwan have already declared that they will refuse to purchase American pork. They’ve also claimed from now on they will label their products as “ractopamine-free”, which be seen by the US as setting-up trade barriers. In fairness to Taiwan’s truly democratic way, the government has said that it will not force any business to purchase the meat. They cannot control their right to choose.

 

What’s the Bigger Picture

This could be a worrying outlook on the future of the relationship between Taiwan and America. Taiwan is currently in debt to the US from a favour which is expected to be repaid. Accepting a deal for ractopamine filled pork was supposed to be a sign of gratitude from Taiwan. Even though they previously claimed it to be harmful, they were ultimately forced to accept it from fear of losing a vital ally.

The very first deal between the two nations has already caused an uproar. Taiwan has to repay America, one way or another. Already people claim that the government have tried to sacrifice the health of their citizens to secure the trade deal and please America. What else are they willing to sacrifice in the future?

 

A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.

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