entry rejection

A Japanese Man’s Struggle For Taiwan’s Independence, and What it Tells us About Taiwan’s Democracy

Yesterday Kenji Tanabe, a 39-year-old Japanese national, joined a demonstration organised by the Protect Taiwan Referendum Alliance (公投護台灣聯盟), an association that advocates Taiwan independence. A group of about ten men gathered at a rotary in the centre of Jiayi City waving banners written in Chinese, English and Japanese. According to the Liberty Times Net, Tanabe was waving a Japanese flag and called in Japanese: “Long live Taiwan’s democracy!” (台灣民主萬歲)

Kenji Tanabe’s name hit the headlines in May 2010, when he came to Taiwan, climbed Mount Yu (玉山) and raised a banner on which was written: “Support Taiwan independence” (支持台灣獨立建國). He also took part in pro-independence rallies. 

Pro-independence banners in Ximending, Taipei
When Tanabe returned to Taiwan in September of the same year, he was refused entry at the airport’s immigration control and was informed that he had been banned for 5 years from entering Taiwan. He had to stay overnight at Taoyuan Airport before being repatriated. He appealed to the Ministry of the Interior, but his appeal was rejected. 

Members of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), traditionally very sensitive about issues such as freedom of speech, rule of law and human rights, became interested in the matter. At a press conference held in 2013, DPP lawmaker Chen Tangshan (陳唐山) declared that the ban was “inexplicable, because the freedom of speech for foreigners should also be protected, let alone considering that Tanabe expressed his views only because he loves Taiwan“. Chen accused Ma Yingjiu‘s Guomindang administration of resorting to the methods of the martial law era, when foreigners were allowed entry into the ROC on the basis of their political convictions. DPP legislator Huang Weizhe (黃偉哲) stated that the Ma administration allowed entry to PRC politicians that support reunification by force, while it denied entry to foreigners that express pro-independence views. 

According to the National Immigration Agency (NIA) of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan), Tanabe had been banned from entering Taiwan for “jeopardizing public safety, social order and national interests by his public advocacy of Taiwanese independence.” He Rongcun (何榮村), NIA Deputy Director, stated that Tanabe had violated the Immigration Act (移民法) by engaging in “extra activities” that went beyond what a tourist is supposed to do, that is, “sightseeing and visit friends or relatives“.  He added that Chinese officials’ entry permits were issued according to the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例), and the Immigration Act did not apply in such cases. Moreover, mainland politicians are monitored by the ROC authorities and must follow itineraries submitted to Taiwan’s authorities in advance. 

Following Chen Tangshan’s press conference, the China Post, a Taiwanese pro-unification paper, published an editorial that, in its language and logic, reminds more of China Daily than of a newspaper that operates in a democratic environment. The China Post defined Chen’s arguments as “groundless and frivolous“, and went on stating:

[F]reedom of speech, which is a human right, can be curtailed through legal sanctions or social disapprobation, or both. That’s why democracies can legally deny any entry to foreigners out of fear that he or she may spread ideas that could endanger their security[T]he government has every right to regard Tanabe as an unwelcome visitor who may spread ideas that may endanger Taiwan’s security. The People’s Republic of China has an anti-secession law that codifies an automatic invasion of Taiwan if Taipei declares independence.


The article further criticises Dr. Chen for being “obsessed by the blacklist, perhaps because he was blacklisted by the Kuomintang government while he was in the United States. That was wrong on the part of the undemocratic government of Taiwan at that time, of course. The right thing to do then would have been to let him come back and charge him with sedition, if his ideas and actions were proven to endanger the security of Taiwan“.

Kenji Tanabe is not the only foreigner who was denied entry for taking part in activities that exceeded the scope of the visa. In 2013, a German national was barred from entering Taiwan because he had allegedly taken part in an anti-nuclear rally in Tainan

The problem with the ROC’s Immigration Act is that it can be interpreted in various ways and can therefore be used by governments to restrict foreigners’ freedom of speech. In fact, what are exactly ‘extra activities’? If a foreigner comes to Taiwan with a tourist visa and then attends a Mandarin school, could he or she be banned for taking part in activities that are not related to the visa? And if foreigners come to Taiwan with student visas, will they be deported if they go sightseeing? Or is ‘extra activities’ only to be understood as the free expression of political views? As I have said many times in this blog, I think that both the Guomindang’s position and the DPP’s position regarding Taiwan’s future are acceptable and I personally side neither with independence nor with reunification. But the handling of the Tanabe case is disappointing, because everyone should be allowed to state their opinions, unless this person engages in illegal activities, such as damaging private property, committing acts of violence, or instigating to violence.  

After 4 years, the government has lifted the ban. On June 22 Tanabe returned to Taiwan to take part in political activities in Jiayi, Tainan, and Taipei.
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