by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: WikiCommons
CONTROVERSY HAS erupted in Japan concerning half-Taiwanese, half-Japanese politician Renho Murata, whose father is Taiwanese and mother is Japanese. Usually referred to on a first-name basis as Renho, the former television announcer and model—one of a handful of female politicians in the male-dominated sphere of Japanese politics—is in the running for presidency of the opposition Democratic Party, the primary opposition party in Japan.
But Renho has come under fire for not actually having renounced her Taiwanese citizenship, despite previous claims she has, and this leading to questions about her loyalty to Japan. Renho has attributed this to a mishandling of the matter by her Taiwanese father; notably, Taiwanese law allows for retention of dual citizenship, whereas Japanese law does not. Under Japanese law, dual citizens are obligated to give up one of their citizenships by age 18, but there are no legal punishments for failing to do so.
Japanese citizenship laws are notably draconian, with citizenship based on Japanese ethnic descent. This leads many individuals who are not ethnically Japanese but who were born and raised in Japan to actually lack Japanese citizenship, such as Zainichi Koreans and Zainichi Chinese. Renho only obtained Japanese citizenship in 1985 at age 17, when Japanese laws were changed to allow children whose mothers are Japanese—and not only those whose fathers are Japanese—to obtain Japanese citizenship. Naturalization is possible in Japan, but the requirements for naturalization are often criticized as being prohibitively high.
Photo credit: WikiCommons
As a journalist and news announcer, Renho had covered the Chen Shui-Bian administration in the 1990s, and has at various time called attention to Taiwan’s marginalization in the world. In her capacity as a journalist and then later as a politician, Renho has met with various senior politicians of the DPP, including Chen Shui-Bian and Annette Lu. Renho later entered politics as a member of the Democratic Party of Japan after being elected to the House of Councillors in 2004.
Renho’s rise to prominence as a politician came as a result of establishing a reputation as a “fiscal firebrand” who attacked wasteful spending in government. Before the scandal, Renho seemed like the frontrunner for presidency of the Democratic Party, having secured widespread popularity among regional Democratic Party chapters and Democratic Party diet members and support from both liberal and conservative elements of the Democratic Party. This was despite accusations that her positions did not substantially differ from her competitors and ambiguity on issues such as whether she would be in support of cooperation between the Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party, a powerful third party in Japan.
But it would be an uphill challenge for Renho to turn the Democratic Party around, seeing as it is still marked by the failure of previous attempt at establishing an opposition party in Japan, the Democratic Party of Japan. Renho was previously a member of the Democratic Party of Japan before its eventual collapse, serving as Minister for Administrative Reforms under Naoto Kan’s tenure as prime minister and then as State Minister of Government Revitalization under Yoshihiko Noda. Though never having gone through a post-war authoritarian period, unlike Taiwan, Japan has had almost uninterrupted rule by the Liberal Democratic Party since 1955, with attempts to found a stable second party including the Democratic Party of Japan and the succeeding Democratic Party. Attempts to form viable second parties have been hampered by failures of the opposition to sufficiently distinguish itself from the Liberal Democratic Party, however, leading voters to return to voting for the Liberal Democratic Party because it seems as though it offers greater promises of stability as the party with the longer history.
Despite strong ties between Taiwan and Japan, Renho has come under fire with accusations of political disloyalty to Japan for still possessing Taiwanese citizenship, in particular from the currently ruling Liberal Democratic Party at loggerheads with the Democratic Party. The Liberal Democratic Party is a politically conservative party currently dominated by its far right nationalist wing—and one Tsai Ing-Wen has sought to build ties to as part of efforts to build stronger ties with Japan in order to counter China.
A meeting between Tsai and Abe in 2011. Photo credit: Liberty Times
Accusations against Renho are that she is “Chinese”, as evidenced in her Taiwanese citizenship, China of course being a traditional antagonist of Japan. Namely, whatever claims about the closeness of ties between Taiwan and Japan sometimes raised within Taiwan as a distinguishing point between Taiwanese and Chinese, Japanese sometimes do think of “Taiwanese” as being a subset of “Chinese”. And so, we can see how such accusations are now being deployed against Renho. This occurs despite Renho having called for a stronger stance against China by Japan, as going hand-in-hand with stronger support for Taiwan. However, Renho has also come under fire within Taiwan for claiming that Taiwan is not a state in the course of proceedings regarding her disputed citizenship, claiming Taiwan is not a state in accordance with Japan’s “One China” principle, then later denying that she said this.
It is to be questioned whether smears against Renho are just typical campaign rhetoric from political opponents, as well as whether opponents will succeed in leveraging on Renho’s scandal in order to damage her credibility in her run for presidency of the Democratic Party. But Tsai Ing-Wen has notably sought to build ties with Shinzo Abe, a candidate put into power by far right Japanese nationalists in the Liberal Democratic Party. The opposition of Japanese nationalists to China makes them possible allies for Taiwan, if it seeks to counter China. While a Renho presidency of the Democratic Party might also cement alliance between Japan and Taiwan, outreach efforts towards the Democratic Party do not appear to be as strong, probably based on the calculation that the Democratic Party does not currently appear as though it is capable of actually providing a viable opposition to the Liberal Democratic Party and fear of offending the Liberal Democratic Party by making outreach to the opposition.
But, given the leveraging of backlash against Renho by abrogating “Taiwanese” into “Chinese” by these same political forces, it is to be questioned whether far right Japanese nationalists are reliable partners for Taiwan. And this may not bode well for Tsai.