National / Politics

Renho to disclose family registry in bid to quell furor over dual nationality

Bid to quell furor over dual nationality criticized by some as succumbing to xenophobic pressure

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Renho, the leader of the Japan’s main opposition party — who was born to a Taiwanese father and a Japanese mother — said Thursday she will disclose a portion of her family registry and other documents to prove she no longer holds foreign citizenship, amid criticism that doing so may encourage discrimination against those with dual nationalities.

Renho’s decision appears to reflect an intention to put an end to a months-long dual nationality saga that has arguably marred her credibility as head of the biggest opposition party as well as a potential prime minister. Under Japan’s current nationality law, those with dual citizenship are required to choose one by age 22.

“I’m ready to disclose a portion of my koseki (family registry) that shows I no longer possess Taiwanese nationality,” Renho, who only goes by her first name, told a packed news conference Thursday. She was elected the first female president of the Democratic Party last year.

Since reports surfaced Tuesday that she intended to reveal a copy of her registry, critics have raised concerns that the move could be seen as succumbing to xenophobic pressure from conservatives to prove she is 100 percent Japanese, possibly setting a precedent that those with dual citizenship should accept unreasonable calls for disclosure.

“The koseki is one of the most private pieces of information, and I’m aware I should never disclose it in response to pressure from those with racist and xenophobic ideologies, or that I shouldn’t set some sort of precedent,” she said. “This is not denial of the value of diversity. In fact, I believe I still remain a symbol of diversity. There is no doubt that the DP is committed to creating a diverse society. But at the same time, if this commitment is somehow being undermined by my fumbling over (the nationality issue), I’d like to clear up any suspicion.”

Renho refused to elaborate on what documents she intends to reveal, saying she will hold a news conference on Tuesday next week to fully explain herself.

While running for the DP’s top position last fall, Renho drew fire for an ever-evolving story about whether and when she had relinquished her Taiwanese citizenship in accordance with the nationality law.

At the onset of heated media coverage last year over her possible dual citizenship, Renho originally insisted that she was Japanese since birth, only to later say she legally became Japanese upon giving up her Taiwanese citizenship at the age of 17 in 1985.

But in September, Renho said she discovered that, despite the earlier claims, she had yet to relinquish her Taiwanese citizenship after all and pledged to swiftly take care of the necessary paperwork. She later claimed she had successfully made a declaration to choose Japanese nationality, but has since rebuffed calls from conservative forces, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, that she reveal her koseki as proof.

Some within the DP blame Renho’s mishandling of the flap for the party’s continued lack of support from the public and its dismal showing in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election earlier this month.

On Sunday, DP lawmaker Masato Imai took to social media to criticize Renho.

“One of the things we should do in light of our huge loss in the Tokyo poll is resolve Renho’s dual nationality problem,” Imai said on Twitter. He added that the party’s failure to clear up the issue is the reason it has failed to gain support from voters.

“For a start, she should disclose her koseki and explain herself,” he said.

The DP’s Kazuhiro Haraguchi joined Imai in calling for a full explanation, adamant that his views are by no means xenophobic but based on the belief that Renho should improve her accountability as head of the party.

“Sometimes there are things you need to explain about as a public figure — more so if you’re aiming to become prime minister in the future,” he said. “This has nothing to do with discrimination.”

But Yoshifu Arita, a liberal DP lawmaker, had a different take.

“Demanding Renho disclose her koseki is wrong and essentially amounts to social bullying,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s an attack on moves calling for a pro-diversity society, and means she has succumbed to xenophobia under the Abe administration.”

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