“Senpai,” someone behind me shouted. I turned around and there was World United Formosans for Independence (WUFI) chairman Ng Chiau-tong (黃昭堂) beaming and bowing. I jumped up and returned the bow. So the two of us were bowing to each other like two Japanese men.
After an absence of 45 years I started visiting Taiwan in 1996, usually once a year. Helen and I made a point of calling on brother Chiau-tong at the WUFI headquarters on Hangchou South Road on such trips. The ritual was partly in jest, but Chiau-tong’s bow always seemed to be in earnest. Once I asked him why he called me senpai, when we were born in the same year (although I was a month older). Was that because I was one class ahead of him at Tainan First High School?
“No, it is because you joined the Taiwan independence movement earlier,” he replied.
It is true I proposed and helped organize the first independence organization — Formosans’ Free Formosa — in Philadelphia in January 1956, when I was 23 years old. Chiau-tong joined the Taiwan Youth group headed by Professor Ong Iok-tek (王育德) in Tokyo when he was 27. So I suppose I was entitled to the senpai designation. In any event, there was always a sense of mutual respect whenever we met.
One evening in April 1998, I got a call from Chiau-tong. He asked me to translate Okazaki Hisahiko’s essay Can Taiwan’s Freedom Be Preserved? from Japanese into English. Okazaki was Japan’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Thailand. After retiring he began writing books on Japan’s diplomatic history and op-eds in Japanese newspapers. This particular article appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun and was about 1,500 words when translated. Chiau-tong asked Kin Bilei to serve as liaison for this project. After reading the translation, Okazaki faxed a note to Kin, which started with the sentence: “Migoto na Eeigo desu” (This is elegant English).
This experience led to my translation of Takayuki Munakata’s collection of essays The True Nature and Solution of the Taiwan Problem, which was published by the Taiwan International Interchange Foundation in 1998. It also led to a long-term friendship with Okazaki.
On our return trips from Taiwan, we often stopped over in Tokyo, to see relatives and meet with the former ambassador and his staff.
I found the cordial exchange of views and information quite beneficial. Through the Okazaki Institute we also met a couple of former Self-Defense Force admirals and generals in Tokyo, Washington and Philadelphia. I learned through such contacts that many in the Japanese elite fully appreciate Taiwan’s geostrategic value to Japan’s national security.
In 2004, during a visit to Chiau-tong’s office, he presented me with a turquoise silk tie from France as a present. After former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) re-election there was a time when Chen behaved as though he was anxious to follow Lien Chan (連戰) and James Soong (宋楚瑜) in visiting China. Chen publicly announced a number of policy ideas which he shared with Soong, apparently pulling the Democratic Progressive Party closer to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) agenda of ultimate unification with the People’s Republic of China.
Chen openly declared that Taiwan independence was simply not feasible and criticized former president Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) Taiwan First stance. Chiau-tong resigned his post as presidential advisor in protest and although Chen sent Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) to try to persuade him to reconsider, Yu’s entreaties fell on deaf ears.