Cablegate: Media Reaction: U.S. Beef Imports
DE RUEHIN #0035/01 0080955
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 080955Z JAN 10
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3087
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 9612
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 0996
UNCLAS AIT TAIPEI 000035
DEPARTMENT FOR INR/R/MR, EAP/TC, EAP/P, EAP/PD - THOMAS HAMM
DEPARTMENT PASS AIT/WASHINGTON
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OPRC KMDR KPAO TW
SUBJECT: MEDIA REACTION: U.S. BEEF IMPORTS
1. Summary: Taiwan's major Chinese-language dailies focused news
coverage January 8 on the proposed referendum on the import of U.S.
beef products, which passed the initial review by the Referendum
Review Committee of the Executive Yuan Thursday and will be able to
enter the second stage of the referendum process; on U.S. arms sales
to Taiwan; and on Saturday's legislative by-elections. The
pro-independence "Liberty Times" carried a news story on page two
with a headline reading "Consumers' Foundation: Taiwan [Holding a]
Referendum to Fully Convince the United States [of the Island's
Public Opinion]." The pro-unification "United Daily News," on the
other hand, ran a banner headline on page six, reading "Taiwan and
the United States Reach a Deadlock as to Whether [Both Sides] Will
Renegotiate [a Deal] on U.S. Beef."
2. In terms of editorials and commentaries, a column in the
mass-circulation "Apple Daily" said now that the amendments to the
Act Governing Food Sanitation have passed, it is time to call a halt
to the referendum on U.S. beef. An editorial in the KMT-leaning
"China Times" also chimed in by saying that there is no need nor
urgency now to hold a referendum on U.S. beef. A "United Daily
News" column called on President Ma Ying-jeou to acquire the skills
for effective communication in the wake of the storm over U.S. beef
imports. An editorial in the pro-independence, English-language
"Taipei Times" called the legislature's move to ban imports of
certain U.S. beef products the biggest setback for Ma. End summary.
A) "Time to Halt the Anti-U.S. Beef Referendum"
Jaw Shao-kong, a radio program host, wrote in his column in the
mass-circulation "Apple Daily" [circulation: 520,000] (1/8):
"The Legislative Yuan (LY) passed the third reading of the
amendments to the 'Act Governing Food Sanitation,' rejecting the
Taiwan-U.S. beef protocol, banning the import of ground beef, beef
offal, skulls, brains, eyes and spinal cord, and only allowing the
import of bone-in beef. The LY also passed a strict supplementary
resolution: 'Imports of beef and related beef products from cattle
more than 30 months old must be banned; the government should impose
strict inspections to ensure that only beef and related beef
products from cattle less than 30 months of age are allowed to be
imported.' The regulations [in the revised Act Governing Food
Sanitation] are very clearly now and thus should be able to dispel
the people's doubts and fears about contracting mad cow disease.
The referendum initiated by the Consumers' Foundation opposing [the
import of] U.S. beef should come to a halt. ...
"... 'Referenda' are a double-edged sword; since the results sought
by the anti-U.S. beef referendum [advocates] have been achieved, the
sword should be put away now, because referenda have a high
threshold and are thus not easy to pass, and the society will put a
lot of manpower and money into holding a referendum. ... Just in
case the [anti-U.S. beef] referendum should fail to pass, it will be
a major setback -- and an unnecessary one -- for the Consumers'
Foundation and for the anti-U.S. beef [campaign]. The Consumers'
Foundation thus should prudently ponder [its next move]. ..."
B) "[Political] Credits that Ma Ying-jeou Needs to Earn"
Journalist Lee Ming-shien wrote in the "United Notes" column in the
pro-unification "United Daily News" [circulation: 400,000] (1/8):
"Judging from the softening tone in Washington's latest statement,
it is obvious that the Ma administration's conciliation with the
United States has proven effective. The amendment to the law
concerning U.S. beef has brought about a storm in [Taiwan's]
internal affairs and foreign relations. Having concluded his
foreign-related parleys, Ma should turn around to clean up the
domestic battlefield now. ...
"Frankly speaking, effective communication has always been the
Achilles heel of the Ma administration, and the amendment to the law
concerning U.S. beef has helped to expose it all the more.... In
the wake of the amendment, the storm over U.S. beef is yet to
subside. The proposed referendum, now entering the second stage of
the signature-collecting process, will remain the focus for the next
round of political attack and defense. It will have repercussions
on future political developments, the upcoming legislative
by-elections, and the [year-end] five major city and county
[magistrate] elections, and will continue to be a source for
C) "The Referendum on U.S. Beef Is Not Necessary Nor Pressing"
The KMT-leaning "China Times" [circulation: 120,000] editorialized
"... The content of the referendum proposed by the Consumers'
Foundation on U.S. beef is: "Requesting that a Department of Health
policy to open [Taiwan's market to] U.S. bone-in beef, ground beef,
beef offal and beef spinal cord from cattle less than 30 months of
age starting in November, 2009, be retracted, and that the
negotiations over the protocol on U.S. beef imports to Taiwan be
renewed.' Judging from the proposed [referendum] text, the agenda
calling for a referendum is nearly non-existent following the
Legislative Yuan's passing of the third reading of the amendments to
the Act Governing Food Sanitation. ...
"Additionally, the United States has issued a strongly-worded
statement [to Taiwan] that the amendment to [Taiwan's] domestic law
violated the contents of the Taiwan-U.S. [beef] protocol. As a
result, the government has immediately embarked on diplomatic
efforts to make up [for its disagreement with the United States].
More importantly, relevant negotiations must be started again. The
goal of the economic, trade and national security departments is to
resume negotiations [with the United States] right away. Even
though Washington is now having a fit of temper and is not willing
to open its door for talks for the time being, the protocol
stipulated that consultations shall be held three months from now.
In other words, shortly following the Consumers' Foundation starting
its second stage of signature collecting, the talks to be conducted
by the government agencies [with the United States] will have just
begun. Also, since the risky parts of U.S. beef that have been
banned from being imported only account for a tiny share of the
output value, judging from the United States' unilateral interests,
there is no reason [that Washington] will procrastinate over the
renegotiation. It is likely that Taiwan and the United States will
reach a new protocol even before the second stage for the referendum
process is finished. Will we still need a referendum?
"To put it in a more concrete way, even if the referendum proposal
passes the threshold for the second stage and were truly held, it
will be extremely difficult to win the approval of more than one
half of all the [Taiwan] citizens, as required by the Referendum
Law. Given that the chances for the referendum to be rejected are
much higher than it will be passed, does it mean that we will
approve the significant opening of Taiwan's market to U.S. beef
should the referendum be rejected?
"The referendum on U.S. beef is an issue concerning the people's
livelihood, and a very complicated one. Because it involves
negotiations between [two] countries, the United States strongly
disapproved of the Legislative Yuan's amendment to the Act Governing
Food Sanitation and said bluntly that Taiwan lacks credibility.
Given such a precedent, plus the referendum, it will put Taiwan in a
very unfavorable position if it wants to negotiate any deals with
other countries, and it will have severe repercussions on Taiwan's
international image as well. ..."
D) "First It Was US Beef, then an ECFA"
The pro-independence, English-language "Taipei Times" [circulation:
30,000] editorialized (1/8):
"President Ma Ying-jeou endured possibly the biggest setback of his
political career on Tuesday when, after months of to-ing and
fro-ing, the legislature finally came around to re-imposing
restrictions on certain US beef products. Not only was the move a
slap in the face for the executive -- which had negotiated the deal
with the US -- it was also a severe blow for Ma as Chinese
Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman. KMT legislators put on a show of
defiance in passing the amendment, while also laying down the law
for the executive on future handling of beef imports. The reversal
not only humiliated Ma, but also made him look weaker than ever.
"While lack of communication is partly responsible for the current
shambles, the biggest objection for most people was the manner in
which the protocol was negotiated. In striking the deal in secret,
the government ignored the possibility of negative public reaction,
seeming only to be concerned about what it could get in return from
the US for lifting the ban. Washington had been stalling on several
issues to get the ban lifted, but to fail to take into consideration
the reaction of the public and the legislature was a fatal
miscalculation. Ma cannot blame legislators for this, as they were
only bowing to pressure from the public, who remain ill-informed
about the safety of US beef. It was the government's task to ensure
people were informed before they announced the protocol, not
negotiate the deal behind closed doors and try to explain away any
fears after more US beef was allowed to enter the market. The
failure to translate the protocol into Chinese was another big
mistake as this left many feeling that the government had something
to hide. ..."