Friday, June 20, 2008

Diaoyutai of Taiwan or Senkaku of Japan?

Recently, the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai islands (as they are known in Mandarin Chinese), aka Senkaku (as they are known in Japanese) have been in the headlines and at the center of controversy in Taiwan.

A few months ago I spoke to Su Beng about his opinions and involvement with the Diaoyutai issue. Back in 1971, Su Beng, along with the Association for Taiwan Independence, supported the idea that Diaoyutai should be considered a territory of Taiwan. They also protested the Okinawa Return Agreement between America and Japan, which would incorporate the islands as Japanese territory. Even before World War II, Taiwanese fishermen fished near the Diaoyutai islands and during the Japanese occupation period of Taiwan, the Diaoyutai islands were under the jurisdiction of Taipei Prefecture. Su Beng has said that the disputed Diaoyutai islands is an international issue that must be discussed and negotiated between all the countries that want to lay claim on the islands, which include Taiwan, Japan, China and Korea.

I came across this website, which has an excellent explanation of the history of the Daioyutai movement in Taiwan, what basis Taiwan has for claim on the islands and how China's claims fit into the picture:

So what caused the recent uproar over the Diaoyutai islands in Taiwan?

On June 11, a Taiwanese fishing boat collided with a Japanese coast guard vessel near the Diaoyutai islands. Since then, there has been a lot of finger pointing. The Kuomintang government has accused the Japanese vessel of intentionally sinking the Taiwanese fishing boat. On the flip side, the Japanese charge that the Taiwanese fishing boat illegally entered its waters. An initial report about this incident appeared here in the Taipei Times:

The Kuomintang government blew the situtation out of proportion; Premier Liu Chao-shiuan even said that he wouldn't rule out going to war over this:

For more on the recent Diaoyutai dispute read:

Friday, June 13, 2008

At Su Beng's on May 21, 2008

When I arrived at Su Beng's residence, his assistant, Bin Hong, told me that my uncle, Dr. Lai, would be stopping by a bit later to make a house call. I wasn't completely surprised, however, I do know that my uncle usually has a pretty busy schedule, so he must have made time to actually make this house call. And since his house call happened to coincide with my visit with Su Beng, it was really great timing.

Usually Su Beng and I talk in his living room, but on this day he was too weak to walk or stand for long, so I walked upstairs to the second floor of his apartment, which is where his study and bedroom are. When I did see him, he seemed a bit weak, but lucid. We met in his study in which there was his writing desk, book shelves, and a guest bed, which hasn't been used by a guest in quite some time. Every time I've seen this room the bare mattress on the bed has been strewn with piles of documents and books. This is the room where Su Beng does his writing.

He told me, as he has several times before, that he appreciated all of the personal time and effort that I've spent working on his biography. He showed me some documents that I'd requested of him. Then his assistant, Bin Hong and I talked about how she'd transfer these documents to me online, once I was back in New York. Our meeting was short, and nothing like our usual day long interviews which start at 10 am and end around 3 pm.

My uncle arrived with his classmate, who's also known Su Beng for years; his father knew Su Beng's father. Su Beng slowly made his way down the stairs to the living room with some assistance. Dr. Lai listened to Su Beng's vitals and tested his reflexes. They talked about his symptoms and how he's been feeling- sweats and chills, some weakness in his legs and pain and soreness in his neck and shoulders. Dr. Lai said that Su Beng appeared to be in good health, but recommended that he get a full physical exam at the Taiwan University medical center.

Su Beng returned to Taipei from a visit to look in on his noodle shop in Tokyo in late February. Since then, he has been going nonstop. In the lead up to Taiwan's presidential elections on March 22, he traveled around the island reaching out to undecided voters, especially those in remote areas outside of city centers, just to get a sense of where they were coming from. I wrote about his views on Taiwan's presidential election here. Bing Hong and Dr. Lai think that Su Beng has probably been overextending himself. Dr. Lai's classmate offered to recommend a good geriatrics doctor at the Taiwan University medical center for Su Beng.

Since I've returned to New York, Bin Hong has told me that Su Beng has been to the Taiwan University medical center, and that his condition seems to have improved.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Knowing Su Beng's condition, I thought I should do something thoughtful, so I went to a nearby fruit stand in the afternoon, a few hours before our late afternoon meeting. I started off picking out some Japanese pears, a beautiful pineapple, and then I remembered that Su Beng likes to eat little green mangoes, so I picked up a bunch of those and had everything all boxed up.

I had talked to my Mom about Su Beng's health condition earlier and she was extremely concerned- especially considering Su Beng's age- so she said she'd call up her cousin for some medical advice. It turns out that her cousin, my uncle, Dr. Lai, is not only a medical doctor, but also happens to be a long time supporter of Su Beng.

Over a family dinner a few weeks ago, my uncle told me that when he was living in Kansas in the 1980s, he met Su Beng. Around the time that the Chinese language version of Taiwan's 400 Years of History was published (in 1980), Su Beng began making annual trips in the summer to Europe, North America and South America . He made contacts within the overseas Taiwanese communities where he spoke about Taiwan's history and sold copies of Taiwan's 400 Years of History. My uncle recounted how impressed he was by Su Beng's thorough, methodical speaking style. According to my uncle, Su Beng was even more thorough than most university professors- the way he repeated and summarized the main points made his message easily understood and retained by his "students."

The Kuomintang had actually tried to pay off Su Beng for the publishing rights of Taiwan's 400 Years of History. Of course when the book was published, it was banned in Taiwan, but the book still managed to get circulated. It awakened the consciousness of a entire generation of Taiwanese who never knew about Taiwan's unique history and development. And Su Beng's underground network expanded internationally.