Going to Taiwan!

April 11, 2005

Mr. Roy Marshall Berman
93 Watchung Avenue
Montclair, NJ 07043

Dear Mr. Berman:

I am pleased to inform you that your application for a 2005 Taiwan Scholarship for Chinese language study in TAIWAN has been successful. Congratulations.

Your scholarship will be in effect for three months from June 1 to August 31, 2005.

I think that says it all. No idea yet what I might be doing after August 31 yet, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.

Italy allows Chen entry as president – or do they?

The Taipei Times today published an article leading with the incredible headline Italy allows Chen entry as president. The article states:

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) departed for the Vatican yesterday afternoon to join 200 state and religious leaders paying a final tribute to Pope John Paul II.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday said the Italian government pledged to grant Chen entry to the country in his capacity as head of state.

Chen’s attendance at the papal funeral today will mark the first time a president from Taiwan has visited the Holy See since the establishment of diplomatic ties 63 years ago.

The visit will also make Chen the first president from Taiwan to set foot in a European country.

Is this in fact entirely accurate?

Let’s have a look at the article the BBC published a day before the trip happened.

A Chinese spokesman expressed “strong dissatisfaction” at Italy for granting Mr Chen a visa to go to the Vatican.

Italy has diplomatic ties with Beijing, rather than Taiwan, which China sees as part of its territory.

And later on in the same article-

If Mr Chen goes ahead with his trip, he will become the first Taiwanese president to visit the Vatican – one of only 25 nations that officially recognises Taipei diplomatically, and the only one in Europe

He is scheduled to leave Taipei on Thursday for Rome, and stay in the Vatican until after Friday’s funeral.

In fact, the Taipei Times is making a very subtle, but highly misleading mis-statement. President Chen is being received by the Vatican as a head of state, but he is not, as the Taipei Times implies, being so received by Italy. From where does this confusion arrive?

To understand, let’s go to Zimbabwe for a moment. The NYT reported this morning that-

Zimbabwe’s president, Robert G. Mugabe, arrived in Rome on Thursday to attend Pope John Paul II’s funeral, apparently using a diplomatic loophole to evade European Union sanctions that ostensibly bar him from traveling to any of the union’s member states.


Under normal circumstances, Mr. Mugabe would not be permitted to fly to Rome. He is among 95 Zimbabweans whom the European Union has barred from entering its territory on the grounds that they “commit human rights violations and restrict freedom of opinion, association and peaceful protest.”

Mr. Mugabe appears to have evaded the travel ban because he is going to the Vatican, which is not a member of the European Union. A treaty obliges Italy to grant safe passage to visitors bound for the Vatican, which has no airport.

While I imagine that Chen is certainly not a criminal like Mugabe and has as much right as any Taiwanese citizen to visit European nations as a private citizen, the assertion that he is being received as a head of state by Italy is quite false. Italy is simply giving him landing permission as a head of state on a diplimatic visit to the Vatican, but this is based entirely on their treaty obligations to the Vatican, and in no way reflects their position towards Taiwan.

Taiwan is only formally recognized as a country by a few countries around the world, in Europe only by the Vatican. The Vatican’s reasons for maintaining relations with Taiwan over communist China are clear. Unlike the other nations of the world whose responsibilities are the economic and physical safety of their citizens, the Vatican’s primary concern is the spiritual guidance of Catholics around the world. China, despite what they claim, does not allow freedom of religion, forcing Catholics to choose between either a state organized Catholic church, which was forced to cut ties to the Vatican so long ago that they still conduct Mass in Latin, or pray in secret, at risk of prosecution by Chinese authorities.

In the flurry of news related to the Pope’s funeral The New York Times also has an article on this topic. As they say,

China’s 12 million Catholics are mourning the death of John Paul II, but his passing is also a reminder of an unfinished legacy: the division of Chinese Catholics from the rest of the church, and from each other. Indeed, if John Paul II helped bring down Communism in Eastern Europe, the Communist Party that rules China proved resilient. The two sides never came to agree to normalize relations between the Vatican and China and end the diplomatic break that began more than a half century ago under Mao.

On a personal level, the pope never achieved his goal of visiting China.

Of significant interest is that fact that a Chinese spokesman for the laughably named ‘Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association’ is quoted in the BBC article above as saying “The decision to let Chen Shui-bian attend has hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, including five million Catholics.” Clearly the Vatican holds the combined interests of the 7 million hidden Catholics in China, as well as the hundreds of thousands of Catholics in Taiwan, are also worth looking out for.

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.

Japan Tourist Visa News

The Taipei Times is reporting that Japan is granting

visa-free privileges for Taiwanese tourists between March 25 and Sept. 25 will not be subject to any change despite protests from China.

Although currently only planned as a temporary measure, it may develop into a permanent policy of visa-free entry as citizens of many countries enjoy. As a US passport holder I can enter Japan for I believe 90 days (although I have only been there with a longer term visa), and Hong Kong citizens were granted a permanent exemption just last year. Both Taiwan and Korea currently allow Japanese tourists to enter without visas for a limited time, but the policy is not reciprocal. This may not be very fair, but I would imagine it is because those two countries are more interested in the economic benefits of tourists from Japan than vice-versa, something which is gradually changing.

Although a significant minority of Japanese citizens are opposed to an increase in foreign tourism (mainly due to incredibly misleading media reports on foreign crime), it seems that the government policy is strongly in favor of it.

When asked whether these visa exemptions might be extended to Chinese mainlanders, a Diet member replied “Due to a difference in the requirements for visas from Taiwan and China, we are unable to allow that.” What this really means is that they would be worried about illegal immigration from Chinese nationals overstaying visas but not particularly worried about visa overstayers from Taiwan or Korea, both countries whose standard of living is now close enough to that of Japan to lessen the temptation significantly.

Taiwanese and South Koreans form the two largest groups of tourists to Japan and rarely overstay visas, the paper said. [Taipei Times]

The article also mentions that

The Japanese government has to amend its Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to implement a new visa policy for Taiwanese tourists.

The law stipulates that visa-exempt entry is only available to Japan’s diplomatic allies. Although a significant number of foreign tourists arriving in Japan are from Taiwan and South Korea, Japan cannot lift the present visa restrictions because of the law.

I imagine that the big problem with Taiwan is their quasi-statehood coming back to bite them in the ass again. As for Korea, I just realized I don’t know if they’re an official diplomatic ally of Japan. Does anyone out there have an idea?

Taiwanese restauranteur watches ‘Temple of Doom’ too many times

Originally spotted this morning in the print edition of The Japan Times. A good complement to my previous post about exotic Chinese food.

Monkey Rescued From Being Put on Menu

By Associated Press

July 16, 2004, 8:06 PM EDT

Taiwan — A monkey was recuperating at a wildlife park in Taiwan after being rescued from a restaurant that planned to sell slices of the animal’s brain while he was alive in a cage, a local government official said Friday.

A tourist in the central mountainous area of Nantou bought the monkey, Formosan macaque, after he saw that customers at a restaurant were about to eat its brains, said Huang Kuo-chen, a forestry official in Taoyuan county, where the tourist lives.

The man phoned Huang’s department to ask whether the monkey could be legally raised at home, the forestry official said.

“Raising monkeys at home is banned because they are protected animals,” Huang said.

The man, who didn’t give his name, handed over the animal to the authorities after rescuing it in May, Huang said. An inspection of the monkey showed exposed bone and small holes in its skull, he said.

In a front-page story, the Apple Daily showed photos of the monkey with a patch of hair shaved on its head where the restaurant reportedly planned to cut open his skull and slice off pieces of brain.

Many Taiwanese enjoy eating exotic animals because they believe the creatures provide special health benefits.

CTI cable news quoted doctors who warned that animal brains could contain dangerous viruses and were not fit for consumption.

The monkey is now being held at a wildlife park before experts evaluate whether it can be released in the wild, Huang said.

Here is a description of one monkey brain feast, which according to the source web site happened in 1948 or so.

The monkey’s head was supported by its neck in a
bracket, two pieces of wood with a semicircular hole on each side such that when you put them
together, they form a complete circle around the animal’s neck, allowing the head to be exposed
above the plank. The hair around the head is shaven with a shaving razor. A small chisel and a
hammer is used to quickly chisel a circle around the crown, and the top part of the skull is
removed. A teaspoon is used to scoop up the brain, which is immediately eaten. This has to be
done before the monkey dies.