Mon, May 28, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Japanese must look beyond Lee Teng-hui

By Takefumi Hayata 早田健文

Although Japan is Taiwan's neighbor, it has always viewed the island with considerable misunderstanding and ignorance. Since Taiwan's democratization, Japan has paid more attention, but this has led to even more misunderstandings.

One year after President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) came to power, Japan's understanding of Chen is still weak -- as reports and commentaries on him are seldom seen. This is a result of Japan's strong impression of former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). Today, many Japanese still believe Lee is Taiwan's president. Even for those who know Chen is the incumbent, at the most they take him as a successor of Lee's path.

Interviews Lee has given to Japanese reporters, in Japanese, have reinforced his popularity in Japan -- though many of the comments have created a furor back home in Taiwan. A clear example of this tendency is Japanese author Ryotaro Shiba's (司馬遼太郎) Travel Notes from Taiwan (台灣紀行) -- which included Lee's remarks on the "sadness of being Taiwanese."

Recent publications which introduced Lee and Taiwan to the Japanese include Yoshinori Kobayashi's (小林善紀) controversial comic book On Taiwan (台灣論) -- which says Taiwanese women voluntarily became sex slaves for the Japanese military -- and Fuyuko Kamisada's (土反冬子) The President in the Tiger's Mouth (虎口的總統) -- which says that Lee was forced to step down as KMT chairman last year.

Lee's goodwill toward Japanese of his generation has satisfied their nostalgia for the old days. In addition, while Japan has constantly been reproached by the world for its wartime invasions, Lee has been the only foreign leader who praises Japan. Such comments are music to the ears of the Japanese, mostly because they come from the (now former) leader of a former Japanese colony. Plus, many Japanese are deeply attracted to Lee's personal charm, his erudition in Japanese culture and his fluent Japanese.

Undeniably, Japan's understanding of Taiwan has increased because of Lee's contributions. Many Japanese have become fans of Taiwan. But when Japanese authors -- whom Lee praises and appreciates -- were portraying Lee or Taiwan, they only wrote down that which tallied with their own ideologies -- and therefore twisted the facts.

For example, Japanese authors have described Taiwan as a place extremely close to Japan. Except remarks made by Lee and "local Taiwanese" (本省人),descendants of the early immigrants from China) of his generation, the authors ignore all criticism of Japan by Taiwan's other ethnic groups.

As a result, Japanese readers are biased and interpret the criticism Lee receives in Taiwan as the pro-unification camp's attacks against the pro-independence camp. From such a vantage point, pro-Japan and pro-independence local Taiwanese are considered "good" while anti-Japan and anti-independence "mainlanders" (外省人) and other ethnic groups are considered "evil." Hidden behind such an interpretation is the growing Japanese dislike for China.

The question should be how Japan can get along with Taiwan and China at the same time, not humanitarian concerns, such as Lee's recent trip to Japan for medical tests..

Chen's inauguration marked a change of generations in Taiwan. But the old generation's "human sympathy" diplomacy (人情外交) between Taiwan and Japan remains -- as Taiwan is still overshadowed by the era of Japanese colonialism. Japan should realize that Taiwan has already stepped into a new era. For the Chen administration -- it should dispense with the old-fashioned style of Taiwan-Japan relations as soon as possible.

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