What you need to know
A fringe group believes that Taiwan is still legally under Japanese rule.
It's becoming ever more common in the Pingtung/Kaohsiung area to catch a glimpse of a vehicle with a strange red license plate beginning with "USMG TCG," standing for “U.S. Military Government / Taiwan Civil Government.”
You can spot such cars all across Taiwan, but supporters in the south seem to have more passion for the ideas of the so-called Taiwan Civil Government (TCG / 台灣民政府) movement.
Had it been established in 1984 instead of 2008, it's founder Dr. Roger Lin and his followers would have been hauled off to Green Island. After all, what they espouse is technically treason.
Forgive yourself in advance for any confusion, as understanding their argument requires some serious mental gymnastics.
"The Republic of China (ROC) government is an illegitimate, foreign power. This government should return to China. The ROC has no right to govern Taiwan and the ROC Armed Forces have no right to exist on Taiwan," explains Hsu Chin-chang (許晉章） from his HQ on Zhili Road in Kaohsiung. Hsu's official title is “Vice-Governor of Takao State.”
Takao is Japanese for Kaohsiung. The Vice-Governor has no desire for a "Republic of Taiwan," but instead holds that the 1946 "granting" of ROC citizenship to Taiwan residents was unlawful, and a referendum should be held to determine new citizenship. If the TCG gets its way in that referendum, he claims that Taiwan’s status would be normalized in the international community.
As the Taiwan Civil Government sees it, the U.S.-led Allied Command in Asia "entrusted the occupation of Japanese Taiwan to the forces of the ROC" during World War II.
Japan lost the war, was occupied by U.S. forces and renounced all rights, titles and claim to Formosa (Taiwan) and the Pescadores (Penghu). Japan regained its sovereignty in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, but never officially returned Taiwan to China; it only renounced its own rights from 1895. Kinmen and Matsu belong to China, according to the TCG.
The TCG sends a delegation to Japan each year to honor the Japanese Emperor, who still holds the ownership over Taiwan, says Mrs. Julian Lin, director of TCG central office.
They believe that Taiwan is not a country. It is an island under U.S. military occupation. International law maintains that occupiers should set up a civil administrative authority – and thus enters the self-created Taiwan Civil Government.
"After the ROC is removed from power, U.S. military authorities should consult with the Japanese Emperor and normalize Taiwan's status," Assistant Takao (Kaohsiung) TCG Secretary Chang-Yuan Chang (張展源) clarifies. Confused? You should be, as confusion is the basic premise of the TCG's case: that unclear treaties and unsigned agreements after WWII left Taiwan in legal limbo for some seven decades, but however you slice it, the ROC has no valid claim to rule Taiwan.
The TCG couldn't care less what the Chinese Communist Party or any political party in Taiwan wants or thinks as they don't legally matter. The final word on Taiwan rests with Uncle Sam and the Japanese Emperor.
Founder Dr. Roger Lin says: "TCG’s goals are to achieve the normalization of Taiwan’s legal status and to obtain human rights protections for the people of Taiwan. We have been living in political purgatory for more than 70 years, and immediately deserve the right to a nationality of our own choosing."
That might sound like a call for Taiwan independence, but the TCG's website makes it clear that Taiwan is not a nation-state. This island was transferred to Japanese sovereignty in 1895, and the ROC had no right to strip Taiwan residents of Japanese citizenship in 1946.
The quixotic quest of the TCG began in 2008. Now, with a self-reported 40,000 to 60,000 members, the group takes themselves rather seriously: traveling to UN conferences and U.S. political breakfasts laden with brochures and posters explaining their arguments, issuing ID cards from their Washington DC head office, and driving cars with "U.S. Military" plates.
Vice-Governor Hsu notes that local police are rather tolerant and the group's vehicles are rarely ticketed – while also confiding that most of their vehicles also have "legal" plates as well.
Answering questions from lawmakers in 2015 over the TCG's legality, then-interior minister Chen Wei-zen (陳巍仁) said that as a civil group, the TCG has constitutional rights, a splash of irony considering the TCG holds the ROC constitution null and void on Taiwan.
A working understanding of nearly every historical event since the ceding of Taiwan and Penghu to the Empire of Japan in 1895 to the day the ROC was expelled from the United Nations in 1971 is needed to even begin to fathom the logic of the TCG, so it's a bit of a surprise that these convoluted ideas have taken root at all. If the TCG's claim of receiving 2,000 to 3,000 membership applications per month is accurate, the appeal of this hybrid U.S. military/Japanese Taiwan becomes even more mysterious.
To be clear, there are at least a few thousand people in Taiwan who believe the claims of the TCG. The other 99.9 percent of the planet does not. Hsu, Chang, and the other “officials” of the TCG, however, say they will never back down, even if it takes a lifetime.
Their ideas may lack coherence, but their commitment is laudable. If nothing else, the arguments put forth by the TCG may one day encourage a more open debate regarding Taiwan's history and politics.
In the meantime, maybe we should all start brushing up on our Japanese?
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TNL Editor: Morley J Weston