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Japan envoy describes food import issue as 'politicized' (update)

2018/11/25 17:35:21

Mikio Numata, Japan's top envoy to Taiwan

Taipei, Nov. 25 (CNA) Japan's top envoy to Taiwan expressed regret Sunday over a referendum result voted by Taiwan's public a day earlier to maintain a ban on imports of agricultural products and food from areas in Japan affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster of March 11, 2011.

Describing the issue as having been "politicized," Japan's top envoy to Taiwan, Mikio Numata, said in a statement that Taiwan and Japan should work together to prevent the referendum result from harming bilateral cordial ties and economic exchanges.

"We will continue to do our best to convince friends in Taiwan of the safety of Japanese food products and we sincerely hope that the ban will be lifted soon," Numata said in the statement.

The opposition Kuomintang (KMT)-initiated referendum, one of 10 voted upon alongside Saturday's local government elections, asked voters if they agree that the government should maintain the ban on imports of agricultural products and food from areas in Japan affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster, including Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures.

Taiwanese voters supported the measure by a 78-22 percent margin among the nearly 10 million valid votes cast.

Asked to comment, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Andrew Lee (李憲章) said the ministry will cautiously engage in talks with Japan over the referendum result to seek their understanding.

The government has to respect public opinion as expressed in the referendum result, but it also has to make sure the result will not affect the cordial Taiwan-Japan relations, he added.

The food ban was originally imposed during the previous KMT administration.

It further tightened restrictions in 2015 when products from those prefectures were discovered on store shelves in Taiwan, drawing strong criticism from the Japanese government.

Since regaining power in May 2016, the Democratic Progressive Party administration has said it is considering lifting the ban on food imports from four of the prefectures, but excluding Fukushima -- but has run into heavy opposition. No progress has been made on the issue since then.

Meanwhile, Cabinet spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka said Sunday that based on the results of the referendum, the Ministry of Health and Welfare will continue to uphold the ban.

"The government's stance on the issue remains unchanged, that is, we will safeguard the health of Taiwanese people by making sure the imported foods are safe to eat," she said.

(By Joseph Yeh)