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Taiwan to hold referendum on lifting Fukushima food ban in November

Senior officials of the Kuomintang, Taiwan's largest opposition party, hold a press conference on Aug. 27, 2018 at their headquarters in Taipei to state their opposition to lifting a ban on food imports from Fukushima and four other Japanese prefectures. The banners read "oppose nuclear food." (Mainichi)

TAIPEI -- Taiwan's largest opposition party Kuomintang has announced that it has collected some 470,000 signatures supporting a referendum on whether to lift a ban on the import of food products from five Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, imposed after the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster.

The number is far more than the 280,000 legally required to hold a referendum, and it is most likely that one will be held on Nov. 24 in tandem with general local elections.

Taiwan has banned foodstuff from the prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Chiba and Gunma in the northern and eastern parts of Japan, and the Kuomintang supports the ban.

A national referendum must have a turnout rate of at least 25 percent for the result to be valid, but this hurdle is likely to be cleared if the voting is done alongside the local elections. If voters back the ban, it would be extremely difficult for the administration of Tsai Ing-wen to ignore the outcome and Japan-Taiwan relations would suffer substantially as a result.

Behind the referendum move is a political rivalry between the Kuomintang and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headed by Tsai. The opposition is stepping up attacks on the ruling party in a bid to win the local elections and build political momentum toward the 2020 presidential election.

The Kuomintang has launched a negative PR campaign against food items from Fukushima and the other prefectures because the Tsai administration is positive about lifting the import ban. The opposition called the Japanese products "nuclear food," meaning contaminated by the nuclear accident, and accused the government of ignoring people's food safety concerns. A person linked to the DPP lamented that the issue is "being used in a political fight."

The government of Japan has repeatedly urged Taiwan to lift the import ban, saying the safety of its food items is scientifically proven. However, the Tsai administration is hesitant about rushing a decision on resuming imports as it faces faltering approval rates and the issue could trigger explosive opposition from some voters.

(Japanese original by Shizuya Fukuoka, Taipei Bureau)

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