This was after strong ‘anti-nuclear food’ campaigning by the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party resulted in some 470,000 signatures calling for the referendum. Only 280,000 signatures are required to legally hold a referendum.
The referendum will be held on November 24 alongside local elections for municipalities, counties and townships, as announced by the Taiwan Central Election Commission.
If turnout for the referendum reaches 25%, which is highly likely due to it being held alongside local elections, the results will be considered legal.
The Japanese de facto ambassador to Taiwan, head of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association Mikio Numata, expressed regret over the referendum.
“I cannot help but feel disappointed over such an unexpected outcome,” said Numata in a statement published on the association’s Facebook page.
“This does not change my feelings for Taiwan. […] Over 4.5 million Taiwanese friends visit Japan every year and consumer foods there, including those coming from Fukushima.
“If the food products were not safe, they would not be [sold in] Japan.
“The decision whether or not to lift the ban should be made based on scientific evidence and from a professional point of view, instead of being used as a political tool and pulling all the Taiwanese people into it,” added Numata.
“My job now is to prevent Kuomintang’s actions from causing damage to the friendly relationship fostered between Japan and Taiwan all along [before this].
“I hope the people of Taiwan will make a calm and rational decision [when voting next month].”
Other referendums that have been approved are over the construction and/or expansion of coal-powered power plants, the phasing out of thermal power plants, same-sex marriage, and the participation of Taiwanese sports teams in international events.
Development of the ‘nuclear food referendum’ saga
The Taiwanese ban on ‘nuclear foods’ was imposed on products coming from five areas in Japan: Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Taiwan and China are currently the only two countries maintaining a comprehensive ban on these products.
The Taiwan government had shown a softening in stance towards the ban earlier on.
Considerations were ongoing to ease the ban in two stages, first allowing products from all the prefectures except Fukushima, then further relaxing constraints six months later.
However, this was fervently opposed by the KMT, raising doubts about the government’s ability to guarantee food safety when it came to the imported products.
It was further complicated by revelations that products from the five prefectures had made their way into the country illegally, which resulted in further action by the FDA.
Following this, the Taiwanese ruling government backed down from the plan.