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Japan disappointed over Taiwan referendum result: envoy

2018/12/11 21:29:52

Japan's top envoy to Taiwan Mikio Numata (right) and Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德, left)

Taipei, Dec. 11 (CNA) Japan's top envoy to Taiwan expressed Tuesday his government's disappointment over a referendum result voted by Taiwan's public in late November to maintain a ban on imports of agricultural products and food from areas in Japan affected by the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster of March 11, 2011.

However, he said Japan will continue to promote bilateral relations.

Describing the referendum result as "unexpected" for President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文) administration, Mikio Numata said Japan was equally disappointed to find that nearly 80 percent of Taiwan's voters agreed with maintaining the ban on produce from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures.

Nonetheless, Numata said Japan will continue to do its best to promote bilateral cooperation with Taiwan.

He made the comments in an address at a reception organized by the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, the de facto Japanese embassy in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties, ahead of Japanese Emperor Akihito's 85th birthday Dec. 23.

Speaking at the same ceremony, Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) said Taiwan and Japan have enjoyed true friendship for decades, exemplified by each country's assistance in the wake of natural disasters.

"I sincerely hope that both countries will continue to enhance closer ties on various fronts" and will not let anything affect cordial bilateral ties, he said.

The opposition Kuomintang (KMT)-initiated referendum, one of 10 voted for alongside the Nov. 24 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.

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

In the wake of the vote, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said that his government will not rule out the possibility of filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the ban, which has been in place since the disaster.

Also, while Taipei has voiced its desire to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a Japan-led economic bloc that will take effect by the end of the year, Kono said the latest development means Taiwan will not be able to join.

"I feel it is regrettable" what has happened to keep Taiwan from the CPTPP, Kono said.

The produce ban was imposed during the previous KMT administration.

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

Since coming to power in May 2016, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party 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.

(By Joseph Yeh)