Back on February 1st I wrote a post on the battle over the “Kokaryo” (光華寮) Chinese students dormitory in Kyoto, between the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China. Those who don’t remember the details of the case or need a refresher should read my initial post on the subject and/or some of the linked news articles.
Since my initial report the case, which 40 years after filing was apparently the longest running lawsuit in Japan, has ended-at least in its current form. While the outcome of the case was exactly what the PRC wanted for diplomatic reasons, it was still not technically a complete success in terms of the primary substance of the lawsuit.
Note that Yomiuri Shimbun’s March 28 headline, “Top court rules China, not Taiwan, owns dorm” is factually incorrect. In fact, the court ruled that because the lawsuit was originally filed by “China” and that recognition of “China” has shifted from the Republic of China (Taiwan) government to the People’s Republic of China (Mainland China), not Taiwan but the PRC is now the plaintiff. The original lawsuit was filed by “China” as represented by the ROC (Taiwanese) authorities against the Chinese (mainlander) dorm residents, whom the ROC wanted to evict due to their support of the PRC. While the defendant was technically the individual students, they were supported by the PRC government, and the case essentially became ROC vs. PRC vying for control of the dorm, even though the original motion that started the trial was calling for an eviction order of the mainland Chinese students from the dorm. Because the original lawsuit was filed by “China,” the court’s judgment that “China” was now represented by the PRC and not the ROC meant that in essence the People’s Republic of China was now playing both sides of the field, and as the plaintiff they had the right to decide not to continue prosecuting the case. In fact, it seems that the court never ruled on the primary issue of property rights one way or the other, and technically their decision allowed the plaintiff to continue to pursue the case by having it returned to the Kyoto district court, which they naturally did not do.
As PRC Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a January 26 news article, “The Guanghualiao [note: “Guanghualiao” is the Chinese pronunciation of “Kokaryo”] case is not merely a property case, but a political case concerning China’s legitimate rights.” While China has always insisted that this is a political case and has publicly demanded satisfaction from the Japanese government, Japan has always pleaded separation of powers, and insisted that it was both illegal and impossible to intervene in the court system for diplomatic and political reasons. However, some observers find both the timing and verdict of the case suspicious. Coming on the heels of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s highly publicized and politically significant official visit to Japan, cynics might suspect that the Japanese government did in fact “encourage” the court to resume the long-stalled case, and adjudicate it in China’s favor as a subtle diplomatic gift to counterbalance moves by the Japanese administration over the last few years to strengthen diplomatic and military ties with Japan.
Despite the high court’s decision that the PRC was in fact the plaintiff in this case, which has effectively nullified all of the previous judgment’s in Taiwan’s favor, there is still a chance for Taiwan to prevail in their property rights claim. The April 4 Taipei Times reported that Taiwanese authorities were looking into how to continue the case, despite having lost the standing to pursue the lawsuit as originally filed on behalf of the Republic of China. “We will continue our fight, considering the possibility of a fresh civil lawsuit or other legal means,” said their attorney Noriyasu Kaneko. According to an April 21 Kyoto Shimbun article (apparently not available online), Taiwan is in fact planning to file a new motion in the Kyoto court asserting their property rights as a “body” and attempting to sidestep the entire hornet’s nest of “one China” and diplomatic recognition. While this case has been a victory for China and a potential danger for Taiwan’s property rights abroad, it is also worth noting that the original premise of the case, that the ROC is the proper representative of “China” is a decades old doctrine that is effectively disavowed by the current Taiwanese administration anyway. Although I doubt that there has been anyone in Taiwan celebrating this verdict, it can also be looked at as the collapse of yet another piece of the “One China” diplomatic fiction. Now that Taiwan no longer has to pursue this Chiang Kai-shek era lawsuit based on the obsolete premise that they are the “One China,” there is at least some sliver of hope that they can turn around and use the new lawsuit to reassert their rights as a body separate from China.