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Cablegate: Supporting the Rice Bomber - a Demonstration

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 TAIPEI 004122

SIPDIS

USDA FAS WASHDC
USDOC WASDC

STATE FOR AIT/W
STATE PASS USTR FOR SCOTT KI

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR ETRD ECON
SUBJECT: SUPPORTING THE RICE BOMBER - A DEMONSTRATION
AGAINST RICE IMPORTS AND THE WTO

REF: NONE

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On December 26, about 500 farmers and
activists demonstrated in central Taiwan to support Yang Ru-
men, the "Rice Bomber," who planted a series of bombs around
Taipei over the past 14 months. The farmers protested
against rice imports and other post-WTO changes in Taiwan's
trade policy and submitted a list of ten demands to Taiwan's
Council of Agriculture (COA). Although COA already has in
place several programs demanded by the demonstrators, it
expects to face considerable pressure from local farmers as
Taiwan participates in future WTO negotiations on
agriculture, especially when the rice issue is raised. In
the end, although the protestors' concerns resonate though
much of Taiwan's society, their actions are unlikely to
change Taiwan's trade policies. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) About 500 people demonstrated on December 26 in
central Taiwan in support of Yang Ru-men, better known as
the "Rice Bomber." After his arrest on November 25, Yang
confessed to planting at least eight of sixteen bombs around
Taipei to protest rice imports. Starting on October 27,
2003, the "rice bombs" were planted in parks, telephone
booths, metro stations and near government offices. Often
filled with rice, only two of the devices exploded -- and
none caused any significant injuries or damage.

3. (U) The demonstration was held in Erh-Lin Township,
Changhua County, Yang's birthplace and the home of his
grandparents. Reportedly, this was also the site of a 1929
protest against the ruling Japanese government's
exploitation of local sugar cane farmers. Speakers at the
demonstration often alluded to the "Spirit of 1929."

4. (U) The demonstrators consisted of activists from
farmers' associations, county councils, community colleges,
legal groups, academia -- and even a gangster organization.
Approximately twenty distinct activist groups and
organizations participated in the protest.


The Rice Bomber as Guy Fawkes
-----------------------------

5. (U) The demonstrators insisted that the Rice Bomber is a
hero and not a terrorist. The speakers said that although
Yang may have been wrong to plant bombs in public places, he
clearly had no intention to harm anyone. The bomber simply
wanted to draw the government's attention to the plight of
local farmers. Yang's actions were further justified as the
only way the poor can fight back in Taiwan's increasingly
stratified society. Since his cause was just, the
protestors declared that Yang should be granted amnesty and
be released immediately. To show their support, Changhua
Farmers have donated money for Yang's legal defense.


Anger at Council of Agriculture
-------------------------------

6. (U) Speakers at the rally blamed Taiwan's Council of
Agriculture (COA) for doing too little for farmers since the
island's 2002 WTO accession. They criticized COA officials
who "sit in their air-conditioned offices" and make
agricultural polices "without thinking of the farmer's real
problems in the field." The demonstration's program included
a song urging Taiwan people to eat local rice and fruit and
a performance about how Taiwan's WTO accession has turned
the farmers' sky black.

7. (U) The protesters urged Taiwan's authorities to reduce
the high tax on rice wine and renegotiate the agricultural
part of Taiwan's WTO accession agreement. They blamed the
government for opening the local market to agricultural
imports, which purportedly had "a huge impact" on prices for
local agricultural products in recent years. They allege
this has made it difficult for farmers to make a decent
living.


Class Conflict Surfaces
-----------------------

8. (U) More generally, the protestors also criticized the
lack of fairness and justice in society. In addition to
being exploited by local "capitalists," Taiwan's authorities
have made local farmers and workers vulnerable to "foreign
capitalists." The resulting income inequality has created a
situation where the poor cannot support their families and
children's education while the rich consume ever more
luxuries.


Petitioning the Council of Agriculture
--------------------------------------

9. (U) Since the arrest of the rice bomber, reportedly more
than 30,000 people have signed a petition with ten demands
for COA.

- Establish a Farmer's Minimum Wage. The government should
ensure that a farmer's income is no less than the minimum
wage of a blue-collar labor.

- Permit Rezoning of Agricultural Land. Taiwan authorities
should allow more land to be rezoned out of agriculture.
Since joining the WTO, Taiwan no longer needs to keep so
much land for farming. Although it seemingly embraces
change, this proposal is attractive to many of Taiwan's
farmers because it would allow them to sell their
increasingly valuable land to developers.

- Wider Use of Price Stabilization Funds. To stabilize
incomes, enhance agricultural development and boost the
competitiveness of local agricultural products, COA should
establish stabilization funds for all agricultural, fishery,
and livestock products.

- More Exports. Increase exports of locally produced
agricultural, fishery and livestock products to reduce
supplies and maintain local prices.

- More Market Information. COA should provide more data on
the situation and outlook on all agricultural, fishery and
livestock production in order to control local supplies and
prices.

- More Funding to Educate Farmer's Children. Farmers should
receive assistance in educating their children, especially
those at the lowest income levels.

- More Protection for Producers Hurt by Imports. All
agricultural, fishery and livestock products should be
eligible for Taiwan's import relief measure, which pays out
to farmers hurt by increasing in imports.

- Payments for Conservation. COA should create a permanent
fund to purchase land from farmers for conservation
purposes.

- Increased purchases of locally produced agricultural,
fishery and livestock products for humanitarian food aid
shipments.

If Taiwan authorities do not respond to these farmers'
concerns, activists have threatened to continue and even
escalate their protests.


Press Reaction
--------------

10. (U) The event was covered by AP yesterday and also
received prominent coverage in the United Daily News and
Apple Daily. In all, eight newspapers had coverage of the
demonstration. In terms of editorial reaction, a United
Daily News editorial urged the government to look seriously
into the problem of Taiwan's agricultural industry, while a
Liberty Times editorial said the protest sent the wrong
message by condoning the rice bomber's violence. The split
between supporting the rice bomber's goals and condemning
his methods makes it uncertain whether he will gain a large
like Jose Bove, the French agrarian anti-globalization
protestor.


Council of Agriculture Reaction
-------------------------------

11. (SBU) According to COA, Taiwan already has in place
several of the ten programs demanded by farmers. For
example, COA already makes conservation payments and
actively promotes Taiwan agricultural exports. COA also
assists farmers by subsidizing fertilizer in order to cut
local agricultural production costs. COA insists that it
has always been a strong advocate for Taiwan's farmers and
is willing to communicate with them about their further
concerns.

12. (SBU) Although COA tried to explain current agricultural
polices to farmers in its response to the ten-point
petition, it does not plan to change its policies. This
does not mean COA is unconcerned - it expects to face
considerable pressure from local farmers as Taiwan
participates in future WTO negotiations in agriculture,
especially when the issue of rice is raised.


Comment
-------

13. (SBU) Although concern for the farmer resonates with
many Taiwan residents who are often just a generation or two
away from the farm, public distaste for violence has likely
undercut widespread support for the protest. Farmers will
likely to continue blaming WTO and COA for their low
incomes, despite the fact that rural poverty is primarily a
result of Taiwan's small scale and inefficient farming
sector. The fact that agricultural prices are largely
unchanged since Taiwan's WTO accession has not been
recognized widely. Low farm incomes, combined with some
minor pressure from imports, will likely fuel some continued
protests against imported agricultural products.

14. (SBU) It is also worth noting that some of the ten
policies suggested in the petition are contradictory. For
example, the petition combines market-oriented elements such
as the land-zoning proposal and better market intelligence
with larger support payments. The linking of higher
agricultural support payments with increased competitiveness
reveals a lack of sophisticated economic thinking amongst
the petition's drafters.

15. (SBU) AIT/AGR expects that COA will continue its
combination of palliatives for producers and continued
resistance to further agricultural trade liberalization.
Most concretely, this is likely to take the form of
continued active Taiwan participation in the anti-
liberalization WTO Group of 10 and in strong opposition to
any attempts to further open Taiwan's rice market.

Paal

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