The controversy surrounding Yoshinori Kobayashi's On Taiwan rages on. However, with the return of National Policy Advisor Alice King from Japan in March, the subject of the debate turned from comfort women to the issue of Taiwanese independence. That a comic book could create such chaos in Taiwan surely indicates that we are still far from reaching a consensus on our national identity.
On March 4, Alice King, a national policy advisor and long-time resident of Japan, returned to Taiwan to protest the Ministry of the Interior's decision to ban Yoshinori Kobayashi-known for extreme right-wing views on Japan's militarist and colonial period-from entering Taiwan. (The main reason for the ban was Koba-yashi's declaration that all of the "comfort women" who served Japanese armed forces in World War II were volunteers, thus denying claims by many Asian women, including women from Taiwan, that they were forced to serve as sex slaves.)
At a press conference here, King blasted the government for its "undemocratic" and "embarrassing" decision. At the same press conference, human-rights lawyer Stephen Lee made six demands of the government, including that it immediately lift the ban on Kobayashi, that it make a public apology and that the officials involved in the decision-including Minister of the Interior Chang Po-ya and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tien Hung-mao-be immediately replaced, or, failing that, that President Chen himself resign. At the same time, the case was put before the Control Yuan's Human Rights Committee in an effort to establish what action may be taken when government officials have failed in their duties.
Who loves Taiwan most?
In her remarks to the press, King stated that she had introduced Kobayashi to Taiwan and stressed that he loved Taiwan very much. She further stated that when informed that Taiwan considered him persona non grata, Kobayashi was both angered and hurt, "as if his feelings for Taiwan counted for nothing." According to King, Kobayashi will not visit Taiwan again unless the government admits it made a mistake and makes a public apology.
Local media reports on King's press conference set off a heated debate. While the Ministry of the Interior's decision to ban Kobayashi from entering Taiwan is fair game for public debate, every country has the right to bar the entry of certain persons. Japan itself provides an example of this right with its repeated refusal to allow former-President Lee Teng-hui, a Japanophile, to visit in spite of his oft-expressed desire to do so. Given this circumstance, Taiwanese were shocked both by King's suggestion that officials, including the president, should step down over the Kobayashi decision and by her attempt to use Japan to pressure Taiwan.
King further fanned the flames by expressing pride in the fact that she had grown up in a Japanese-ruled society, by defending Japanese militarism and colonialism, and by stating that she did not recognize the existence of the Republic of China. In King's view, she is not a national policy advisor to the ROC, but a personal advisor to President Chen. In support of this position, she noted that the agreement signed by national policy advisors does not explicitly mention the ROC.
King was also critical of the ambiguity of President Chen's "new middle path" on China relations. King's statements on the ROC and Taiwan-China relations pulled the debate over On Taiwan away from the human- and women's-rights issues raised by the "comfort women," and refocused it on the issue of Taiwanese independence.
Responding to King's remarks, President Chen stated that he respected her right to free speech, but would not become involved in the controversy. In testimony to the legislature, Premier Chang Chun-hsiung was more critical, stating that in denying the existence of the ROC, King was "distorting history."
An independent leader
In mid-March, King returned to Taiwan once again to participate in the March 18 "Taiwan Nation Stands Up" march and in the first annual convention of the World Taiwanese Congress, an organization of Taiwanese independence activists from around the world. At the airport, King, who entered Taiwan on an ROC passport, accepted a "Republic of Taiwan" passport from William Huang, secretary-general of the Taiwan Independence Party. This event prompted New Party legislator Elmer Feng, long known for his pro-reunification views, to file a complaint with the Taipei District Prosecutors' Office alleging that King's actions amounted to conspiracy to commit sedition as defined by the ROC Penal Code.
Helped along by the media, the Alice King cyclone ripped through Taipei's political circles. The straight-talking, silver-haired King was a frequent guest on radio and TV call-in programs, and made headlines with her remark that she "had neither the time nor the inclination to press the Japanese government to compensate the comfort women." King faced the public with great confidence, and remained equally unfazed by both praise and condemnation.
King's recent remarks on Taiwanese independence have warmed the hearts of many long-time activists. Over the last year, proponents of independence have had reason to be dismayed. President Chen has made several gestures of goodwill towards China and has proposed cross-strait "integration" as a basis for the development of relations. Frank Hsieh, chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party, has also stated that the DPP is "not ruling out the reunification option." Until recently largely unknown in Taiwan, King has become a spiritual leader of the Taiwanese independence movement.
Seeking a solution to the Taiwan question
The Alice King phenomenon has given rise to a great deal of concern among political pundits. While both Japanophiles and those who favor independence have historical reasons for their views, the two views are not equivalent. If one's experience as a former colonial subject leads one to belittle and blame her fellow countrymen, hasn't she greatly distanced herself from the spirit of independence that inspired the Taiwan Nation Stands Up march? Moreover, with relations across the Taiwan Strait unstable and the two sides of the strait still seeking a mutually acceptable model for interaction, extreme positions calling for rapid reunification or independence are not beneficial to the vast majority of Taiwan's people.
Wang To, a DPP legislator, has written that at a time when most Taiwanese prefer that the current cross-strait arrangement be maintained, Alice King, a self-professed lover of Taiwan, used the Kobayashi controversy to tweak Taiwan's most sensitive nerve, re-igniting the reunification-independence debate and very possibly causing a deterioration in cross-strait relations. In his article, Wang wondered whether King is posing as a supporter of Taiwan independence to oppose independence, creating chaos within Taiwan as part of a Japanese plan for a second colonization.
The social critic Ping Lu, on the other hand, sees class rather than provincial origin as the key factor in explaining why people like King paint Japan's rule of Taiwan in a benign light. Ping Lu notes that the 67-year-old King graduated from the Taipei First Girls' High School, Taiwan's premier secondary school, before going to Japan to study at the prestigious Waseda University. Clearly a member of the ruling class, her experience of the Japanese occupation was very far removed from that of the general populace. As a result, she has little understanding of or sympathy for the suffering of the lower classes under Japanese rule.
Differences of class and provincial background have given Taiwan's people widely divergent experiences of history, making it very difficult to reach a consensus on either Japan's role in Taiwan's history or the question of reunification with China. Instead, Taiwan remains embroiled in endless internal disputes.
King has struggled a lifetime for her beliefs, and has done much to promote friendly relations between Japan and Taiwan. But she would do well to remember that colonial powers act in their own interests, not those of the colonized. By imagining that Taiwan bears the torch of the "Japanese spirit," Kobayashi has kicked up considerable controversy here. Clearly Japan's right wing has yet to give up its colonial dream and continues to use Taiwan as ammunition in the debate over Japan's colonial history. Let us hope this debate does not disrupt cross-strait relations.
Alice King likes to say that she's a woman who speaks her mind. Given that, and her striking appearance, it's no wonder that she has become a darling of the media.
Wearing a yellow headband reading "Taiwanese Stand Up," Alice King became a new star of the independence movement at the March 18 independence rally. (photo by Jimmy Lin)