TAIPEI (Kyodo) -- Voters in Taiwan approved a referendum Saturday to maintain a ban on food products from five Japanese prefectures, imposed after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, dealing a major blow to the government of President Tsai Ing-wen and the island's relations with Japan.
The Central Election Commission website showed that a total of 7.79 million approved the initiative, well over the 25 percent required out of 19.76 million eligible voters, against 2.23 million votes in opposition.
The referendum result is legally binding and government agencies must take necessary action.
The result dealt a significant blow to the Democratic Progressive Party government that proposed easing the ban after coming to power in May 2016, but backed away when the main opposition Nationalist Party (KMT) questioned the new government's ability to ensure the safety of the imported products.
Japan's de facto ambassador to Taiwan, Mikio Numata, expressed regret Sunday over approval of the referendum.
On the Facebook page of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, Numata wrote he felt "deeply regretful" that Taiwanese voters agreed to maintain the ban on food products from the five prefectures in northeastern Japan.
But Numata emphasized that he remained committed to preventing the issue from being used as "a political tool to undermine the sound relationship between Japan and Taiwan and economic exchanges."
"We will continue efforts to let our friends in Taiwan understand that Japanese food products are safe and hope the restrictions will soon be lifted," he wrote.
Taiwan government officials indicated Sunday the will of the Taiwanese people will be respected.
Cabinet spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka said the Executive Yuan, as the cabinet is called in Taiwan, will ask the Ministry of Health and Welfare to continue inspections of imported Japanese food products to ensure public safety.
Hsu Fu, director of the Executive Yuan's food safety office, said the office respected the referendum result and will work closely with the Ministry of Health and Welfare on the matter.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrew Lee said the ministry respected public opinion on the issue and will let the Japanese side understand the safety concern of the Taiwanese public to avoid any negative impact on bilateral relations.
Some worry the referendum result will damage the island's relations with Japan. Taiwan's representative to Japan, Frank Hsieh, said the initiative was a KMT scheme aimed at undermining bilateral relations between Taiwan and Japan at a time when the two are seeking closer ties as a way of protecting themselves from an increasingly belligerent China.
Hsieh also warned that if the referendum is successful, Taiwan would pay "a grave price" that will affect all its people.
China is the only other country still restricting comprehensive imports from Fukushima Prefecture and nearby Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi, and Chiba prefectures.