Are Taiwanese really Japanophiles?

Are Taiwanese really Japanophiles?

Japan is going to be required to decide how to engage in the Taiwan Strait crisis while tension in the region is rising.
Taiwan is an important geopolitical point for the sea line of communication in East Asia. People living there are also known as the most enthusiastic Japanophiles around the world.
Various descriptions are given for why Taiwanese people are so loving Japan, such as its history or relationship with mainland China. However, Japanese diplomatic engagement after WW2 seems to be one of the reasons as well.

Let’s review the history of Taiwan briefly. Chinese people started their history on the island in the 17th century when Zheng Chenggong conquered Taiwan as part of their anti-Qing dynasty movement. The island was governed by the Dutch East Indian Company at that time. After the Qing dynasty overthrow the Zheng administration, the continental empire didn’t show interest in managing Taiwan island until they set up Taiwan province in 1885 to ready against Western colonialism threatened Asia. The imperial policy basically banned people to go to the island from mainland China for a long.

Taiwan was ceded to Japan empire in 1895 as a result of the Sino-Japan war. Only bureaucrats came from other regions and some landlord class showed brief resistance and most of the people who had migrated illegally and assimilated with local residents during the Qing dynasty period didn’t show strong interest initially. After the Government-General of Taiwan begins to rule, those people who didn’t have previous experience of being managed by the government felt complaints. The situation resembled the early Meiji era in mainland Japan when people were frustrated by more strict rules and taxations by the central government compared with the previous feudal system.
50 years of governing afterward, however, turned Taiwanese people’s minds positive against Japan by economy and society developed as well as people who kept the memory of the pre-Japan rule passed away. It is a different situation from Korea where Japanese rule ended in 35 years and many local ruling classes who felt nostalgic for the Lee dynasty existed.

After Japan was beaten the WW2, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) occupied Taiwan. As “Chinese people” who came from mainland China conducted significant corruption and oppression, residents in Taiwan who experienced the rule of law increased frustrations. Under such circumstances, KMT triggered the February 28 incident in 1947 to repress Taiwanese broadly. Martial law was set in the next year and Taiwan was in the White Terror period for 40 years until 1987 when the law was removed. Such experience also led people’s impression of Japan-rule positive.

The Republic of China during the White Terror era was ruled by a single political party KMT that was controlled by minority newcomers who came from outside Taiwan province. The upper left part of the national flag is the symbol of KMT and the national anthem start with the phrase “Three-principle of the people guide OUR PARTY”. Dictatorship political organizations – the communist party and KMT ruled mainland China and Taiwan respectively.
KMT did not give up unrealistic objectives like recovery of the continent and one-China policy in order to keep privileges of minority newcomers from outside Taiwan such as perpetual parliamentarians who were selected from provinces in mainland China or allocation for the public servant hiring per home province.
Minority newcomers also insulted the majority locals as they accepted colonial rule by Japan, however, stronger discontent by the majority Taiwanese to these newcomers didn’t generate anger against Japan. During the Taipei mayor election campaign in 2014, the elder KMT criticized the opposite candidate as “Japan imperial vassal”. But such defamation was not accepted by society and KMT was forced to apologize.

The KMT dictatorship ended with the retirement of perpetual parliamentarians in 1991 and the direct election for president in 1996. As a result of democratization, the president and parliament seats are switching between two major parties.
Current president Tsai Ing-wen is from Democratic Progressive Party and the DPP occupies 54% of parliament seats. In the most recent parliamentary election, the vote acquisition rates for KMT and DPP are mostly equal.

Politics in Taiwan since democratization have been divided by the Pan-Green Coalition that desires to build a democratic nation-state by discarding the unrealistic fantasy of one China and the Pan-Blue Coalition that wants to keep an existing relationship with mainland China due to economic reasons.
The DPP was formed as an alliance of anti-KMT movements. Most of the founders were activists for democratization or Taiwan independence. However, its character is changing to left liberalists focusing on environmental matters or human rights, etc.

Meanwhile, mainland China has started attracting foreign investments aggressively since the 1990s after launching the open and reform policy. Many Taiwanese including original locals also became softened attitudes against mainland China. Investments by Taiwan enterprises into the continent expanded rapidly in the 2000s and reached 14.6 billion USD in 2010. Those huge continental assets of Taiwan’s economy became like a hostage to China in other perspectives.

Investments to mainland China, however, shrank sharply in the late 2010s, and the communist party’s treatment of Hong Kong make Taiwanese cautious recently. Thus, the Pan-Green Coalition has a slight advantage now.

It supposed to be true that these historical and geopolitical factors affected the sentiment against Japan by the Taiwanese. However, they seem to be not enough.
Diplomacy with the apology might have impacted significantly the difference between Taiwan and other East Asian nations.
After WW2, Asia diplomacy by Japan had a strong relationship with compensation and a huge amount of yen loan and development assistance has been provided. Many of these aids were tied to Japanese companies and kickback to politicians in both Japan and counterparty nations was an open secret.
Negative sentiment by people in the target country helps Japan to provide apology and compensation smoothly without criticized by the internal public. The critical campaigns by media regarding past Japan’s war of aggression also contributed to the apology diplomacy.
However, the Republic of China had abandoned its compensation rights against Japan due to the Japan-China Peace Treaty in 1952, then severed diplomatic relationship with Japan in 1972 as Japan tied with communist China. Therefore, Taiwan has not been eligible for apology diplomacy by Japan that supplies development aid tied with the rebate.

In contrast, the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Korea enjoyed benefits by showing the pose of the anti-Japan sentiment. They also leveraged anti-Japan to mitigate public dissatisfaction. Although their economic development has reduced aid from Japan, they still rely on it like drugs. The initial pose of anti-Japan sentiment has changed to real hate by cultural imprinting for the long term.
If Taiwan was eligible for the apology diplomacy as well, the long-term anti-Japan media reports and education might have been conducted. It is difficult to deny the possibility that people’s sentiments in Taiwan could become a different one under such a situation.

★【Sozen Fujiwara】

Research partner、Institute of Economics for Humans

Private investor

Bachelor of Arts, Hiroshima University

Master of Economics, Nihon University

Worked as a reporter for US-based financial media after engaged in futures markets in China and Southeast Asia as a trader. Before that started work experience as a local newspaper reporter.

Immigrated to New Zealand for children’s educational opportunity. Participated in the management of a nutritional product manufacturer that is owned by wife’s family.

Having more than 30 years experience in commodity markets and operating a crude oil market specific blog since 2010:



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