China has prohibited its trade with Taiwan amid rising tensions over United States House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to the democratically-ruled island.
Chinese commerce and customs authorities disclosed on Wednesday that they had stopped exports of sand, an important material used in construction, and imports of Taiwanese citrus fruit and some types of fish.
China’s General Administration of Customs noted that the food imports were prohibited due to the presence of pesticide and the coronavirus in some shipments, while the Ministry of Commerce disclosed that it had suspended sand exports in line with unspecified legal provisions.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office separately declared it would restrict mainland Chinese companies and individuals from financial dealings with two Taiwanese foundations, the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy and the Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund.
The announcements come as Pelosi conducts a high-profile visit to Taiwan despite Beijing caution of “serious consequences” should the veteran Democratic politician make the visit.
The trade measures came after a notice by China’s customs agency on Monday that it had blacklisted over 100 Taiwanese food brands for their inability to renew their export registration.
Wu Shou-Mei, director-general of Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration, stated that the moves overnight may be politically motivated as Taiwanese manufacturers were being treated differently than those from elsewhere, the Taipei Times reported.
China is Taiwan’s largest trade partner, with the island’s exports to mainland China and Hong Kong reaching $188.9bn in 2021.
China last year prohibited imports of Taiwanese pineapples citing “biosafety” concerns, in a move widely seen as an attempt to mount pressure on Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who has sought to heighten Taiwan’s relationships and standing overseas.
China has been blamed for using trade as a weapon in recent years, with Australia and Lithuania seeing their exports hit with tariffs and other prohibitions after becoming embroiled in disputes with Beijing.
Alicia García-Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis in Hong Kong, disclosed that suspending fruit and fish imports would have a negligible effect on Taiwan’s economy, but restricting sand exports could have a significant impact as construction has become an important source of economic growth during the pandemic.
“There have been shortages of sand and gravel for some time in Taiwan,” García-Herrero briefed Al Jazeera.
“I would not say it is a key export from China but it does hurt Taiwan.”
Henry Gao, an expert in Chinese trade at Singapore Management University, stated that while sand is an important resource for Taiwan, with uses in the tech and military aspect as well as construction, the island should be able to easily source it from elsewhere.
“I think it is likely that China will announce other economic sanctions, but it is unlikely to be effective unless China bans its biggest import from Taiwan – semiconductors,” Gao said. “However, that will hurt China itself, too, as so many Chinese firms rely on semiconductors.”
Pelosi, the third-highest ranking official in the US government, arrived in Taipei on Tuesday night as part of a five-leg Asia visit that includes Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia.
In an op-ed published in the Washington Post minutes after her arrival, Pelosi stated that the US could not stand by as Beijing “proceeds to threaten Taiwan – and democracy itself”.
China’s foreign ministry has berated the visit as “extremely dangerous” and blamed the US side of “playing with fire”.
China’s Communist Party considers self-ruled Taiwan a renegade province that must be “reunified” with the mainland, by force if necessary, although the party has never had control of the island.
The Biden administration has said it does not support independence for Taiwan, which is recognized by just 13 countries and the Vatican, or changing the status quo, but that Pelosi has the right to visit the island.