Major Taiwanese Politician Visits Yasukuni- Better Relations Ahead?

Since learning that I am very likely going to study Chinese in Taiwan this summer I have naturally been paying closer attention to the situation in and around that country. Naturally any story on the relations between the Republic Of China (ROC, aka Taiwan) and Japan is an eye-catcher, especially one as dramatic as a major Taiwanese politician visiting Japan’s controversial Yasukuni shrine. Today’sTaipei Times reports that Shu Chin-chiang (蘇進強), chairman of the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) political party made a “pilgrimage” to the controversial Yasukumi Shrine. Incidentally, although the English language press is not pointing it out, the Japanese media describes Shu’s TSU party as part of the ‘pro independence’ faction in almost headline.

Shu immediately came under fire at home for the visit where he was accused of dignifying Japan’s militarism in the early 20th century.

Shu, dressed in a business suit, was cheered on by supporters who unfurled the flags of Japan and his party as he entered the Yasukuni shrine which is dedicated to 2.5 million war dead, including 14 convicted war criminals.

The latter figure is slightly innacurate. The shrine is dedicated to all Japanese war dead (including soldiers drafted or recruited from former colonies such as Taiwan and Korea), and this function is all-inclusive, actually including over 1000 Japanese soldiers convicted as war criminals. The controversy does not stem so much from the fact that the shrine lists include executed war criminals, but from the fact that in 1978, decades after the war’s conclusion, 13 class A war criminals were enshrined as ‘martyrs,’ and the shrine issued a statement saying that these men had been wrongfully convicted. Wikipedia has a good summary of this basic controversy.

He called on Asians to “move beyond the grudges and animosity of the past.”

“As one Taiwanese and as a leader of a political party I have come here to pay my respect to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for Japan,” Shu said.

It may be perfectly reasonable for Shu to honor the long neglected Taiwanese dead, but to point out that they “sacrificed their lives for Japan” seems to me to be a mistake.

“At the same time, as one Taiwanese, I have come here to pay my respect for 28,000 Taiwanese,” whose names are enshrined, he said.

Supporters said it was the first known visit to Yasukuni in modern times by a party leader from Taiwan, which was ruled by Japan from 1895 to 1945.

I believe that this is actually the first formal visit to Yasukuni by a leader from ANY former colony, if not from any Asian country period.

The Yasukuni shrine controversially lists the names of 28,000 Taiwanese and 21,000 Korean soldiers, most of whom were forced into service under Japan’s colonial rule.

The holy site also lists the names of Japanese civilians who died in fighting.

The populist Koizumi has visited the shrine four times since August 2001, saying he has the right as a Japanese person to choose how to honor the dead.

What has been overlooked in virtually every article I have seen on the Yasukuni issue is that even the Emperor himself has refused to visit Yasukuni Shrine since their special recognition of class A war criminals was made public over 25 years ago. It’s a little ironic that the very symbol of right wing Japan has taken a stand against the nationalists while the “populist Koizumi” evokes international ire by pandering to the rightists.

In Taipei, Aboriginal legislator Kao-Chin Su-mei (高金素梅) angrily objected to Shu’s pilgrimage.

“Japan launched over 160 battles to destroy Taiwan’s Aboriginal tribes during its 51-year colony on the island,” he said in a statement.

“We strongly protest the TSU visiting the Yasukuni Shrine,” he said. “It is already an insult to Taiwan’s Aboriginal people that our soldiers were enshrined there.”

TSU spokesman Chen Chien-ming (陳建銘) said that Su’s visit was timed ahead of today’s holiday to honor the dead, called Tomb-Sweeping Day.

“We do not agree with the acts and invasions of the Japanese militarism [during World War II] but we should not let hatred persist,” Chen said in Taipei.

I tend to agree with Chen. Certainly Japan’s behavior during their imperialist period was reprehensible and unforgiveable-but the generation responsible for that is largely dead and gone and it is hardly serving anyone to bring up old grievances to damage relations with one of the few strong allies (or at least near-allies) that Taiwan may have against China. Not to say that the past should not be addressed, but it should be studied as history, not for politicians to use as emotional bait during election season.

14 thoughts on “Major Taiwanese Politician Visits Yasukuni- Better Relations Ahead?”

  1. A victory for Japan. Interesting to see how the fault lines are realigning in East Asia. The oneday-unified Korea and China versus Taiwan, Japan, and the US. I relish the future.

  2. I’m not so sure about that particular vision of the future. I think there is a good chance that Taiwan will never be on the same side as China again (at least in our lifetimes). Young South Koreans may be sympathetic towards the North, but I have never met even a single Taiwanese my age with even the slightest desire to reunify. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. As time passes the general population of Taiwan seems to be becoming even more pro-independence, and this is something that they will never achieve without more allies, in particular Japan (and continuing good relations with the US).

  3. I believe the big controversies are:
    1) Several of the 13 or 14 matyrs barely qualify as war dead, or at least certainly didn’t fall in battle. We’re talking guys like Tojo who commanded the war, etc.
    2) The Shrine’s website and other official stuff has some particularly offensive statements. OK, I can take comments about military tribunals being unfair. Sure, in the history of military trials and victors’ justice, that happens. Heck, Nuremberg was hardly completely “fair” according to the legal standards of civilian justice. War is war, of course. But the comments about the countries of Asia wanting Japan to take over, welcoming the prosperity sphere, etc., (go view the shrine website) really annoy nationalists in other countries.

  4. This just confirms to mainland China, and to the blues in Taiwan that the TSU is the party of treason. A lot of people tend to comment about the issue without knowing any of the relevant details. The TSU is not a major party in Taiwan, it is prominent but only because it is highly vocal and shrill. With only about a 5% representation in the legislative Yuan, they are nobodies. However, they are keepers of the ideological flame of the pan-greens independence platform. Calling this some sort of gepolitical realignment or a victory for Japan is absurd. The genuine purpose was to confirm the anti-China posture of the hardcore greens in the face of the KMT’s mainland visit and the new Chen-Soong political rapproachment. In otherwords, it was a political ploy to spite the mainland and to maintain some manner of political relevance despite their weak political position. This is unlikely to have any effects on mainland policy as the TSU are essentially are all persona non-grata as far as the Communist Party is concerned.

    I will leave the discussion of the quisling and pathetic nature of the TSU for another day. 🙂

  5. Jing, thanks for the information. I’ll happily admit that I know very little about Taiwanese politics or political parties aside from a general history of the KMT. As I said at the beginning of my first post on Taiwan, these are my initial thoughts as I begin to read up on contemporary Taiwanese politics in preparation of my (possible) study abroad there this summer to learn Chinese.

    If you want to tell me about “the quisling and pathetic nature of the TSU” I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to either post it here or email it to me from the link on the front page.

  6. No need, I’ll probably just rant your head off about colonial collaborators anyways. But to add some more details to this issue, most of political establishment in Taiwan has turned against him, with the KMT and PFP firing the first salvos. Even the nominally pro-independence DPP has criticized the actions of the TSU chief who happened to be greeted from his return flight by being pelted with eggs after getting off the airplane. As I was mentioning earlier, this was essentially a political ploy that backfired for the TSU. The KMT and PFP have recently begun unofficial negotiations to de-arm the recent impasse after the anti-seccession legislation fiasco. Rather historic since these are the first negotiations between the KMT and the CCP since the civil war unofficially ended. The Yasukuni visit was likely staged in response to those visits by KMT and PFP representatives but by all accounts failed for any domestic political purposes, except for getting their names into the newspapers.

  7. Reply to the comment you left on my blog:

    Rumour has it he’s quite a fan of Japan. That’s the debt I was referring too. As for why he’s distrusted, that should have been made obvious. Where I live, nobody really likes Japan, and someone with Lee Tenghui’s background will never be trusted, regardless of his ‘contribution to cross-straits relations’.

    As for media coverage, I trust Xinhua more because I know their bias. I quite simply don’t know enough about the Taiwanese or Japanese media to know which way they’re heading, meaning I have to think a bit harder about what they’re writing. So I’m lazy. Ultimately, no media is objective, and so I take my news from a variety of sources, keeping myself as aware as possible of the particular bias of each source. I don’t really trust any source, but on particular issues I trust certain sources more. Whose coverage of Abu Ghraib would you consider more trustworthy? Fox News or CNN? Completely different issue, I agree, but that’s the principle I’m working on.

  8. I somehow left out the first sentence of the reply, which was something about Lee Tenghui having been educated in Japan. And then I wrote about the rumours he’s quite a fan of Japan……

    Still, that’s what I’ve heard here on the mainland. Take all of that with as many grains of salt as you like.

  9. Take a look at the history of Taiwan after World War II:
    “Formosa Betrayed”, by George H Kerr
    (Taiwan was known as Formosa)

    About Lee Tung-hui:
    Lee Tung-hui educated in Japan? Well, yes, considering that Taiwan WAS a part of Japan. He went to school there and the schools were run by the Japanese.
    Lee Raised during Japanese Rule? Again, he was BORN in taiwan when it was a part of Japan. He didn’t leave China, he didn’t have a choice! He was born a Japanese.

    BUT if that’s the basis of chinese distrust in Lee Tung-hui, then I don’t think the Chinese can trust anybody who isn’t born and raised in China. Here’s one example: All Americans of chinese descent who are born in the U.S., are likely not only educated in the U.S. but are also fans of the U.S. Heck, they probably even LOVE the U.S. Some even serves in the U.S. Armed Forces.

    OH NO. How can they consider themselve Americans? How could they be fans of the U.S.? As chinese descendents, they should consider themselves as only Chinese, and should be loyal to China no matter what.


    About trusting Xinhua coverage:
    Personally, I trust American and European-based journalism to provide the most bias-free coverage, compared to ANY Asian one. Especially when the topic is Asian related. Especially so when compared to Xinhua.

    Where was Xinhua coverage on Tiananmen when the chinese students were being run over by tanks?

    According to Xinhua, it never happened.

    Anyway, criticism of the TSU have quick, but support for them is not far behind…

  10. Thanks for the photos!
    Luckily one of them is the shrine museum’s explanation of what they call the ‘Nanjing Operation.’

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