Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles [in Mandarin] I have been helping my family farm since I was in school. Hsieh is one of hundreds of farmers in Taiwan that grow atemoya a variety of custard apple. [in Mandarin] The texture is rather chewy. [in Mandarin] It is sweet, but it has a hint of sour, making the flavor unique. It's one of the island's most popular fruit exports. Every season, farmers like Hsieh export around 14 million kilos. And 90% percent of that goes to China. But in September of 2021, China banned all imports of atemoya. They claimed they had pests. [in Mandarin] I was surprised it finally happened. Overnight, Hsieh lost 70 percent of his orders. But this story is about more than just fruit, pests, or trade. Atemoyas are a symbol of deep tensions between Taiwan and China that have been simmering for decades. So how did this innocent tropical fruit get caught in the middle of all this? The complicated relationship between China and Taiwan dates back to the 1940s. Back then, China was in the middle of a brutal civil war between the nationalists and the communists. When the communists won, they established the People's Republic of China on the mainland. The nationalists fled to Taiwan and called it the Republic of China. They both declared themselves the rightful ruler of China. A claim that today only the mainland really upholds. Taiwan isn't officially recognized as an independent country. But it has developed into a self-governing democracy with a constitution, legislature, and president. Since the civil war ended, Taiwan's KMT party has been in power most of the time. And while they maintained sovereignty they also grew closer to China. But in 2014, many felt they got too close. They passed a trade pact that opened up Taiwanese industries to Chinese investment. And thousands of protesters stormed the government. [chanting] "Review the trade pact! Review the trade pact!" They feared the pact would hurt Taiwan's economy and leave it vulnerable to pressure from China. Soon after, Taiwan's opposition party was voted into power for only the second time in the island's history. And this new president continued to push back against China. “We will not accept the Beijing authorities' use of 'one country, two systems' to downgrade Taiwan And undermine the cross-strait status quo." [in Mandarin] It's been five years, and cross-strait relations are silent. Instead, China has intensified its pressure campaign to unify Taiwan with the mainland. “Complete reunification of the motherland can be and must be fulfilled.” Military incursions are on a steep rise. China has sent hundreds of fighter jets into Taiwanese airspace. And they've conducted military drills designed to intimidate. They've also coerced other countries and world organizations from formally recognizing Taiwan. A big part of China's pressure campaign comes down to isolating Taiwan from the rest of the world. But with this tropical fruit, China is doing something different. It's pressuring Taiwan from within. China is Taiwan's largest trading partner. More than a quarter of all exports go to the mainland. And that's in part because they offer incentives. Like dropping all tariffs on these Taiwanese fruits. [in Mandarin] On the surface it looks like an “exchange” but in reality it's a way to win Taiwanese hearts. [in Mandarin]It's a comprehensive top-down strategy, wrapping around Taiwan's agriculture, farmers and agricultural products like a net. And this net can easily trap farmers. Like Hsieh who switched to growing atemoyas exclusively 7 years ago. [in Mandarin] The export volume was increasing dramatically. So we took advantage of the trend and switched fully to atemoya. There was so much money to be made selling to China, that many farmers in the region also switched to atemoya. And production tripled. This brought jobs and a more sustainable economy. But there was a catch. Because of all the incentives China offers Taiwan, a huge number of farmers rely on China to make a living. And this creates a dangerous dependency. Because it allows China to disrupt trade flow with, say, a fruit ban. That hurts fruit farmers in Taiwan Which could push them into blaming the government for worsening relations with China. [in Mandarin] The motivations behind China's ban are politics and elections. [in Mandarin] China's ambition for Taiwan has always been unification. [in Mandarin] When they have patience, they might give you small benefits, hoping your impression of them will slowly turn positive. [in Mandarin] When they lose patience, they might create psychological threats. [in Mandarin] Like they are doing now. And while the threat might be aimed at Taiwan's government it's farmers like Hsieh, who feel the impact the most. Since the ban his income has dropped by more than 50 percent. [in Mandarin] We need to help each other sell fruit without losing money. [in Mandarin] This is what we have to work hard on right now. Atemoyas are the latest target, but not the only one. China also banned wax apples. And in early 2021, pineapples too. Just like the atemoyays, China claimed the pineapples had pests. [in Mandarin] I was very worried and scared when I heard about the ban because I already invested so much money and effort. [in Mandarin] I was scared. Pineapples are the most popular fruit exported to China. They account for about 60 million US dollars. So pineapple farmers are stuck in the same cycle of dependency. But this time, Taiwan did something different. They launched a campaign. And it went viral. World leaders and diplomats posed with the Taiwanese pineapple. And Japan and Hong Kong replaced China as Taiwan's top pineapple importers. Domestically, citizens bought an entire year's worth of pineapple exports in 4 days. Restaurants across the island added pineapple to everything. And it helped. But dependency on China runs deep. China wasn't just a big market. It was an especially profitable one too. [in Mandarin] To be honest, those sales channels are far from comparable. [in Mandarin] Elsewhere, costs go up by 20% — 30%. [in Mandarin] You can't make as much money if you don't export to China. [in Mandarin] It's a loss for us farmers. That's because, If Taiwan doesn't sell fruit to China their only choice is to go north to Japan and South Korea. Further south, in Southeast Asia, tropical fruits are much cheaper. Longer distances are also complicated for fresh fruits that require cool temperatures and special storage conditions. At home, the Taiwanese government has offered financial help but most of it is going to exporters and not small farmers. [in Mandarin] The government wants to boost sales by subsidizing exporters. [in Mandarin] But us farmers have not benefited and we are not happy. [in Mandarin] If you look at it from a strategic perspective, our enemy grabbed our Achilles' heel. [in Mandarin] This crisis has forced farmers, producers, and exporters to review this problem. [in Mandarin] They should've done this when dependency on the Chinese market was very high. [in Mandarin] But better now than never. So instead of trying to replace the deep-rooted market China created. Some farmers are starting to replace their crops. [in Mandarin] We have reduced production. I now grow about 50% less than before. [in Mandarin] I also started to invest in bananas and taros. [in Mandarin] We don't rule out the possibility (of replacing our crops). [in Mandarin] We'll have to think about adjustments after this harvest. Because as long as Taiwan's farmers are trapped in the middle of this geopolitical fight, their livelihoods will always be at risk.