It looks like it isn’t only North American residents who are receiving suspicious packages containing mysterious seeds appearing to come from China - people in Taiwan have also reported similarly strange items in their mailboxes.
In a widely-shared post visible only to group members of The Ecological Flowery Facebook group on Tuesday, Taiwanese user Lin Wen-wen wrote that she received a parcel from unknown senders in Shanghai’s Qingpu district in early July that contained a substance listed as “potting soil.”
In her post, Lin said that she “reacted with caution” and chose not to open it. She then reported it to local authorities and was advised to turn in the parcel to the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health for inspection. Importing soil is prohibited under Taiwanese law.
Taiwanese media reported that the Council of Agriculture confirmed the package contents and issued a warning on Facebook, urging anyone who receives suspicious packages from abroad to contact its local offices.
On the PTT online forum, a popular platform in Taiwan used for public discussion, some users speculated that the seed and soil packets were tied to a mainland Chinese scam calling “brushing”.
“Someone will pose as a generous vendor and send off such rubbish to innocent buyers on apps,” explained a user by the name of FeiXiong2218. “I don’t know why people have such time to spare but it apparently boosts shady businesses.”
Following similar reports from the U.S., China’s foreign ministry responded: “The Chinese Postal Service has asked the United States Postal Service to return this fake mail to China so our authorities can conduct the necessary investigations,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during a press briefing on Tuesday, July 28, adding that initial checks by the Chinese postal service showed information labels on the parcels contained errors and appeared to be fake.
Wang added that the Chinese postal service strictly adhered to the guidelines of the Universal Postal Union - a United Nations agency - about handling seeds.
American residents in several states reported receiving similar unsolicited seed packets, which come at a time of escalating tensions between China and the U.S.
In 2017, similar incidents were reported across North America and the United Kingdom, where people were receiving mysterious unordered parcels from China, often containing small household items. This practice has been attributed to “brushing” by online crime syndicates in China, in which fake orders are made and sent to legitimate delivery addresses in an attempt to boost sales and prominence amongst Chinese online retailers. It is uncertain however if the current cases are of the same intention.