Remembering a son of Taiwan

By Li Thian-hok 李天福  / 

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 - Page 8

“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.

During our talk I told Chiau-tong that I agreed with his decision to quit and that he should stand firm. He was very pleased and suddenly said he wanted to give me the tie. It was a high--quality tie, though a little loud for my taste. I still wear it from time to time.

In the summer of 2005, WUFI-USA held a conference in Colorado to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Taiwan independence movement in the US. Afterward, Chiau-tong went to Washington, so on July 19, Paul Hsieh, Helen and I took him to call on US lawmakers Steve Chabot, Robert Wexler and Tom Tancredo, all ardent supporters of Taiwan. In between interviews we had lunch at a US House of Representatives cafeteria. After the meetings, we walked from Capitol Hill to Union Station, even though it was a very hot day.

The following day, I arranged a luncheon at an Italian restaurant near the Faragut North Metro station so chairman Ng could meet with some of Washington’s foreign policy elite, including Dan Blumenthal, Derek Mitchell, congressional aides and academics from the Hudson Institute and the International Assessment and Strategy Center such as Arthur Waldron and Rick Fisher. This was a rare and useful opportunity for US academics and officials to talk to the WUFI chairman and a life-long advocate of Taiwan Independence.

In June 2009, Helen and I flew back to Taipei so I could deliver the keynote speech at a joint conference of the North America Taiwanese Professors’ Association (NATPA) and Taiwan Association of University Professors (TAUP).

On the second day of the conference Chiau-tong invited us to lunch at a Japanese restaurant near the WUFI headquarters. He said the food there was as good as the best restaurants in Tokyo, so we had a leisurely and very pleasant luncheon, just the three of us. I took this opportunity to present Chiau-tong with a tie pin which I had bought at a gift shop in the basement of the Longworth House Office Building, to commemorate his visit to Washington in 2005.

Also in the summer of 2009, with the support of the North America Taiwanese Women’s Association, Helen and I launched a campaign to collect 10,000 signed letters to send to US President Barack Obama, seeking his support for Taiwan’s freedom. We persuaded the Taiwan Presbyterian Church and TAUP as well as five other major Taiwanese American groups — NATPA, the Hakka Association for Public Affairs (HAPA), Taiwanese American Association (TAA), Formosan Association for Human Rights (FAHR) and Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) — to participate in this campaign.

In the end we collected more than 9,000 letters from Taiwan, several hundred from Canada, a hundred from Japan and about 8,000 from across the US — 18,000 letters in all. With professor Tsai Ting-kui’s (蔡丁貴) help, TAUP alone sent 8,000 signed letters.

This campaign was concluded by a meeting at the Washington office of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) with the AIT managing director and head of the US Department of State’s Taiwan Coordination Office. US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell was instrumental in arranging the meeting.

One day we received a package from Chiau-tong containing a letter to Obama, signed by him, a similar letter from professor Chang Yen-hsien (張炎憲) and 23 additional letters. In a short cover letter he said that because some staff members at the WUFI headquarters did not feel the organization should participate in this campaign the enclosed letters were personally collected by him. I was touched. More than the French tie, this was a precious gift which I will always remember.

In January last year, WUFI-USA organized a conference in Houston. After having served as head of the diplomacy committee since 1997, the central committee had decided to abolish the committee as a part of a reorganization. I made a farewell speech to the members and thanked the brothers and sisters who donated to my project to publish a book (America’s Security and Taiwan’s Freedom, Xlibris, 2010).

Later, Chiau-tong asked me if there was a minimum donation for the book project. I said no. Later, he gave me a small envelope. A note on the outside said: “Small gift for a great book.” Inside there were four crisp Ben Franklins, probably part of his traveling money. This was the last time I saw brother Chiau-tong.

Chiau-tong’s life-long devotion to the cause of Taiwan independence is well known. The 1 million hand-to-hand demonstration he directed in cooperation with Lee is well-remembered, because it was a critical factor in Chen’s re-election in 2004. Chiau-tong’s forthright and sanguine personality and his candid and unique sense of humor are also widely known. What I cherish most, however, are his warm and caring nature and his generous spirit.

Chiau-tong was indeed a worthy son of Taiwan.

Li Thian-hok is a freelance commentator based in Pennsylvania.