Flip-flopping from earlier remarks, Democratic Party deputy head Renho acknowledged Tuesday that she has yet to renounce her Taiwanese citizenship, a revelation that could affect her chances to be elected president of Japan’s biggest opposition party later this week.
In a hastily convened news conference, Renho, who is half Taiwanese and half Japanese, corrected her earlier assertion that she relinquished her Taiwanese citizenship at the age of 17 when she officially obtained Japanese nationality.
She called the mix-up an honest mistake and blamed it on her Taiwanese father, who had taken care of all the paperwork needed to get her Japanese citizenship.
Renho added she could not follow her father’s conversations with officials at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Tokyo because of the language barrier.
“I would like to apologize for the confusion caused by my inaccurate memories and the lack of coherency in my recent remarks,” she said. “But at the time, my identity as a politician has always been based on the idea that I am Japanese and I’ve worked for the sake of my own nation. And I will from now on, too.”
The likelihood that Renho, who goes only by one name, will become the first female leader to steer the struggling DP has loomed increasingly large, with opinion polls showing she is the front-runner of the party’s leadership election slated for Thursday.
The current leader, Katsuya Okada, also hailed Renho as a symbol of diversity due to her gender and foreign background, but her about-face may cast doubt on her caliber as the potential leader of the biggest opposition party.
At the onset of heated media coverage over her possible dual citizenship, Renho had originally insisted she was “Japanese from the moment I was born,” only to correct this to say she legally became Japanese upon giving up her Taiwanese citizenship at the age of 17 in 1985.
Until then, she was technically a Taiwanese citizen as per the old nationality law that requested children of an international marriage adopt the father’s nationality.
Under the revised Nationality Law, a Japanese national who also holds foreign citizenship is obliged to choose one before turning 22.
Should the individual opt to become a Japanese citizen, he or she is “duty-bound” to drop the citizenship of the second country. However, there is no criminal penalty for failure to do so.
Renho maintained Tuesday that there was nothing illegal in her failure to give up Taiwanese citizenship.
The Japanese government, meanwhile, stands by its position that those who possess Taiwanese citizenship in Japan — and that includes Renho — are theoretically subject to Chinese law due to Tokyo’s lack of official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
China’s nationality law, though, stipulates that Chinese citizens living abroad automatically forfeit their citizenship upon obtaining foreign nationality of their own volition.
Under this scenario, Renho can be interpreted as having been stripped of Chinese — or in her case, Taiwanese — citizenship the moment she became a Japanese citizen in 1985.
In Japan, the National Personnel Authority disqualifies anyone holding citizenship of a foreign country from becoming a diplomat in an apparent bid to obviate the possibility of such individuals giving priority to foreign interests.
But no such ban applies to aspiring lawmakers or Cabinet ministers, according to Atsushi Kondo, a professor of constitutional studies at Meijo University.
Renho’s dual citizenship, then, would raise no legal questions over her career as a lawmaker and her past appointment as state minister in charge of government revitalization, Kondo said.
“Legally speaking, the whole thing is nowhere near being significant enough to cost Renho her job as a lawmaker. Rather, the question is how politically appropriate is it,” Kondo said.
Renho’s surprise revelation came after many DP regional members and supporters had already voted for her in order to meet Tuesday’s postal mail deadline, following her repeated assertions she had renounced her Taiwanese citizenship.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters following Renho’s announcement that he believes she needs to “fulfill her responsibility” to explain her flip-flop.
Kondo added that the global trend — particularly among countries “with high regard for human rights and democracy” — is now increasingly toward greenlighting dual nationality.