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Thursday, July 14, 2011

An island of Rodney Dangerfields

I’m surprised this story hasn’t received more attention here in T'áiwān 台灣, especially on the local blogosphere. Just the headline alone from this Kyōdō News 共同通信社 article that appeared in the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ last Sunday should’ve generated some discussion – “Students from Táiwān denied disaster funds. Lack of official ties with T’áipěi 臺北 nixes ¥125,000 relief payments.” (search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110710a2.html):

Students from T'áiwān studying at universities in the disaster-stricken northeast at their own expense were barred from applying for emergency funds that the central government made available to foreign students, according to sources.

The education ministry 文科省 said they were ineligible 'because of the lack of diplomatic relations with T'áiwān'...

To support foreign students studying in Japan at their own expense, the education ministry decided to take an emergency measure to treat them equally as students on government scholarship programs, according to the ministry
.”

It seems that only those foreign students “who have nationality of a country that has diplomatic relations with Japan” are eligible for scholarships from the Japanese government to help cover the cost of their studies at Japanese universities. The government has determined that foreign undergraduate students enrolled in universities in the Tōhoku 東北地方 and Kantō 関東地方 regions are eligible to receive relief payments of ¥125,000 ($1580/NT45,570) for one month. However, this assistance comes with the aforementioned “diplomatic relations” proviso that applies to students on Monkashō scholarships, meaning that those among the 1800 Taiwanese undergraduate student population in Japan who are going to schools in the affected areas are prevented from getting any assistance.

The situation takes an even more ridiculous turn when the article reveals that:

The relief program also covered graduate students and those from T'áiwān were also apparently eligible. Twenty-five Taiwanese graduate students received payments through the Interchange Association 財團法人交流協會「財団法人交流協会」, which serves as Japan's de facto embassy for T'áiwān.”

So it seems that those Taiwanese who are studying in Japanese university undergraduate programs at their own expense can’t get any financial help in a time of crisis due to reasons related to international diplomacy (a decision apparently made by the Education Ministry, and not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 外務省), but their counterparts who are fortunate enough to be enrolled in graduate programs at (presumably many of) the same schools ARE eligible for assistance, despite the lack of official ties between Japan and T'áiwān.

The mind boggles when it comes to the workings of the Japanese bureaucracy.

Just why the “diplomatic relations” clause is a requirement for government aid in the first place is a mystery. Japan maintains official relations with virtually every nation on the planet, save for two – our perpetually picked-on Republic of China 中華民國, and the much-despised (and deservedly so) Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Was the requirement a result of pressure from the Chinese government in Beijing, and, if so, why? Or was it aimed at North Korea? Japan has a large population of resident Koreans 在日韓国・朝鮮人, a number of whom are associated with the pro-Pyongyang Chongryon 朝鮮総聯 organization (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chongryon), so it’s certainly not out of the question that the exclusion might be aimed at North Koreans in Japan. The latter are considered “permanent foreign residents” (as are the pro-South Korean segment) rather than Japanese nationals, despite having been born and raised in Japan, and, in most cases, speaking Japanese as their mother tongue (as opposed to Korean). Chongryon-run private schools at all levels, including Korea University 朝鮮大学校 in Tōkyō 東京, do not receive any subsidies from the central government. Elements within the Japanese government may have felt that the scholarships for foreign students could have provided a loophole for those North Korean residents to receive the same, so they might have come up with the diplomatic recognition requirement as a way to prevent that from happening. So it’s certainly plausible that Taiwanese students may be the unfortunate victims of the complex relationship between Japan, its resident Korean population and North Korea (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koreans_in_Japan).

Whatever the reason (and much of this is pure speculation on my part), it just seems extremely unfair. There’s the risk that all of this could have negative consequences down the road. As the article notes:

The ministry could face criticism for its inflexibility, as people in T'áiwān have been among the most generous donors to Japan following the March 11 quake and tsunami, contributing around ¥17 billion ($215 million/NT6.2 billion.”

The story has already generated at least one outraged letter to the editor at the Japan Times, who points out that:

“…the Japanese government will deny relief funds to Taiwanese students in the Tōhoku region, because Japan does not recognize T'áiwān. And yet Japan had no problem at all with accepting millions in donations from T'áiwān.

This kind of double standard casts a very bad shadow on Japan. If T'áiwān can donate money for disaster relief in Japan, why can't Taiwanese students in Japan receive the same type of aid as other foreign students? For shame
!”


The window of the restaurant, Sol Kitchen, where Amber and I had dinner this evening. The menu was almost entirely in Japanese, with Chinese translations of the items placed in parentheses. I ordered the taco rice タコライス, one of the signature dishes in Okinawa 沖縄.


The aforementioned taco rice. It wasn't bad, but without salsa sauce, it was drier than the dish I had on Taketomi Island 竹富島 a couple of weeks ago. In any event, Amber ended up eating most of it because the beef curry rice ビーフカレーライス she ordered proved to be too spicy for her.

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