Critical China Scholars, Statement on Taiwan and the US-PRC Conflict

Originally published on the CCS website

September 22, 2022

Critical China Scholars (CCS) stands in solidarity with the people of Taiwan in their struggle for self-determination, caught in the middle of the growing conflict between the PRC and the US.  

We write this at a time of heightened tensions provoked by Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, but we recognize that the larger crisis is the product of much deeper and more complex historical processes. Those processes need to be understood and addressed if there is hope for true justice and peace in the region.

First is the legacy of imperialism. Taiwan has a long and multi-layered history of imperialist subjugation: a frontier region of the Qing empire, it was ceded to an expansionist Japan in 1895, and at the fall of the Japanese empire in 1945 was entrusted to the KMT-ruled Republic of China–all without consideration for the rights or wishes of the people living there. The Democratic Progessive Party (DPP) owes its current power to the courageous efforts of social movements against authoritarianism and imperialism over the past four decades, but its increasing fomentation of nationalist ideology does not do justice to Taiwanese people’s diverse and complex social identities. Although we cannot expect them to speak with one voice, Taiwan’s own social movements are the best sources of knowledge about empire and identity in Taiwan.

Second is the legacy of the Cold War, which is also in many ways an imperialist legacy. Following the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949, Taiwan became a crucial piece of the “arc of containment” constructed by the US government in its efforts to combat communism and strengthen the US’s own empire in Asia. This Cold War history was vividly evoked in Nancy Pelosi’s tour of Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan–all key nodes of that old “arc” of Cold War US power. While we by no means condone the PRC’s military response, which was reckless and utterly without justification, we cannot fail to recognize the threatening nature of Pelosi’s trip as a whole, crowned by the knowingly provocative inclusion of Taiwan, especially in the context of US state rhetoric and policies that are increasingly hostile to the PRC. We do not see it as realistic or morally defensible for the US to seek to maintain a favorable military balance on the other side of the globe indefinitely.

Third is the legacy of neoliberalism. In recent decades, it appeared to some that global capitalism would succeed in knitting together the interests of power-holders in China, Taiwan, and the US, and so secure the peace despite persistent ambiguity over the future of Taiwan’s political identity. Opponents of capitalism found some cause for optimism in expressions of labor solidarity that recognized the threats to workers in both Taiwan and the PRC brought by integration of the national economies. As neoliberalism has increasingly come apart at the seams, it is not surprising that these nation-states are no longer willing to paper over the differences in their geopolitical interests. While CCS will not mourn the death of neoliberalism, we recognize that its unraveling is producing extremely negative consequences: any solution to the conflict over Taiwan must be founded on a more just and sustainable set of economic relationships.

These complex historical legacies have produced a situation that is both highly dangerous and also highly challenging to resolve. For many of us, as opponents of empire mostly based in the West, our first responsibility is to recognize the damaging effects of US imperialism, and to call on the US and its allies to  cease the ramping-up of militarist activities in Asia and the Pacific. As China scholars, we also have a responsibility to correct the inaccuracies of much rhetoric of the international left, which too often portrays the US government’s “One China Policy” (which acknowledges without recognizing the PRC’s claim that Taiwan is a part of China) as reflecting sacred truth rather than necessary fiction, and which fails to recognize the legitimacy of the anti-imperialist struggles of the people of Taiwan. By and large, the Taiwan public opposes unification with the Chinese mainland, and the international left should not ignore this fact.

Until China ceases its aggressive military actions in the Strait, Taiwanese people will continue to pursue US protection; and until the US ceases military buildup in the region, China will continue to feel justifiably threatened. Durable peace in Taiwan must be built upon commitments from both the PRC and the US to de-escalate and fully reject the use of military force to resolve the conflict.

In the face of very daunting forces, speaking not for the interests of any government but as critical China scholars and members of global movements for justice, we support the right of the people of Taiwan to cease being pawns of the PRC, US, or any other empire–and to determine their own identities and their own future.


Maggie Clinton reviews Victor Seow, Carbon Technocracy: Energy Regimes in Modern East Asia (University of Chicago Press, 2022)

Among the vignettes that bookend the six chapters of Victor Seow’s deft Carbon Technocracy is a recollection of the 1932 Pingdingshan massacre. On Sept 16 of that year, soldiers with Japan’s Kwantung Army—the garrison force that had policed Japanese railway concessions in Manchuria since 1906 and now formed the backbone of occupied Manchukuo—murdered some three thousand Chinese civilians ostensibly in retaliation for acts of resistance at the nearby Fushun colliery. Seow observes that the massacre was exceptional in its cruelty yet consistent with the “systematic violence of both the imperial project and the energy regime of carbon technocracy” (163). By World War II this energy regime reached its militarized apogee, relying on forced labor to mine the “treasure house” of Manchurian coal and fuel the expansion of Japan’s Asia-Pacific empire. Seow makes clear that, following Japan’s defeat in 1945, Chinese Nationalist and Communist inheritors of the Fushun mines readily continued technocratic practices of carbon extraction established by the Japanese. This legacy of Japanese imperialism, Seow suggests, remains apparent in present-day Chinese and Japanese approaches to fossil fuel extraction and therefore is a force to reckon with as we try to imagine a global transition from carbon-based energy.

In Carbon Technocracy, Seow weaves a stunning range of research conducted in China, Japan, Taiwan, and elsewhere into a narrative of the development of East Asia’s largest open-pit coal mine at Fushun, in China’s northeast. More broadly he makes a case for what he calls “carbon technocracy,” engaging with the work of Timothy Mitchell, in particular Mitchell’s 2011 Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil.[1] Where Mitchell highlighted how “the flow and concentration of energy made it possible to connect the demands of miners [in northern Europe and the U.S.] to those of others, and to give their arguments a technical force that could not easily be ignored,” Seow seeks to show how such demands and connections were precluded in northeast Asia amid the development of scientistic approaches to coal extraction.[2] For Seow, carbon technocracy constitutes a non-democratic “technopolitical system grounded in the idealization of extensive fossil fuel exploitation through mechanical and managerial means” (8). It also “describe[s] a historical process that is concurrently an alternative account of state formation in modern East Asia and a transnational history of technology” (8). Although, as I elaborate below, Seow’s concept of “carbon technocracy” at times glosses over important political distinctions, his book as a whole provides the most comprehensive picture to date of the conditions by which Japanese and Chinese states became dependent on fossil fuels during the twentieth century. It foregrounds the inseparability of fossil fuel dependency from imperialist violence as well as the contingent relationship between carbon extraction and political forms. Scholars working on any aspect of twentieth-century East Asian history will have much to learn from Seow’s work, as will scholars and activists addressing fossil fuels in other parts of the globe. It joins a growing list of humanistic studies of East Asia’s fossil fuel history that help us understand how China and Japan are currently among the world’s top consumers of coal and oil (and China among the top producers of both), and to evaluate the prospects for a post-carbon future.[3]   

Chapters one through four move chronologically and thematically from late-nineteenth-century Meiji Japanese excursions into the Qing empire’s Manchurian territory through the end of the Second World War. The cleverly titled chapter 1, “Vertical Natures,” guides readers through legal rationales deployed by Japanese imperialists in the wake of the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War to dispossess Chinese mine owners of their Russian-invested holdings. We learn how Japanese engineers affiliated with the South Manchuria Railway Company (“Mantetsu”) after 1907 began to develop the Fushun colliery with cutting-edge technology and access to a Chinese labor force made vulnerable by the dislocations of the Qing empire’s demise. Chapter two, “Technological Enterprise,” takes readers into mine mechanization during the 1910s and 20s and the aspirations of Mantetsu managers to render labor as redundant as possible through such mechanization. Seow details labor management techniques including wage increases, reduced working hours, and the construction of leisure facilities aimed at maximizing productivity that simultaneously forestalled the kinds of worker empowerment and democratic participation indicated by Mitchell (101). As in chapter one, Seow underscores the racialized hierarchy of Mantetsu’s Fushun enterprise: Chinese laborers were subjected to surveillance practices including fingerprinting, drug testing, and draconian policing. Japanese managers consistently paid Chinese workers less than their Japanese counterparts; the latter also performed more dangerous work and lived in segregated housing far inferior to Japanese neighborhoods (113). In his highlighting of the racialization of labor, Seow shows how Fushun emerged during the 1910s and 1920s as East Asia’s largest coal mine through concerted applications of technology and the calibrated exploitation of Chinese workers.  

Chapter three turns to metropolitan Japan during the interwar years, looking closely at the influential “Fuel Society” and the mounting anxieties among government-affiliated intellectuals that Japan lacked the fossil fuel resources (coal and increasingly petroleum) enjoyed by other imperialist powers, particularly the United States. This competitive impulse, which invariably implied expanded Japanese claims to overseas colonies and leaseholds, was matched, Seow indicates, by anxieties among domestic coal producers that gluts of Fushun coal were driving their own prices down. Chapter four addresses how fossil fuel anxieties propelled Japan’s wartime militarism and how Fushun coal functioned both within the managed economy of Manchukuo after 1932 and in the expanding Japanese empire writ large. Here, Seow productively coins the term “warscapes of intensification,” after historian Christopher Jones’ “landscapes of intensification,” capturing the way “aggressor states were…motivated to expand further for access to even more resources and to mine presently held deposits with greater ferocity” (187).[4] This intensification not only relied on the gross exploitation of colonized labor forces but rendered the empire’s energy supply routes vulnerable to counterattack (187-88). By war’s end, Fushun was “but a shadow of its former self, exhausted by the demands of wartime mobilization and the limits of carbon technocracy” (204).         

Chapters five and six document the transfer of the Fushun mines to Chinese control following Japan’s 1945 defeat, first to the Nationalist Party and then, by 1948, to the victorious Communist Party. Seow details how the Nationalist Party had been struggling, with limited financial resources and against multiple obstacles, since the 1920s to uncover and develop China’s coal and oil deposits. After full-scale war broke out against Japan in 1937, the powerful, technocrat-dominated National Resources Commission took charge of this endeavor and assumed control over Fushun once the Soviets retreated from Manchuria. Rendering the mines productive again after their wartime hyper-exploitation would have been difficult enough, but the Nationalists faced the added complication that the Soviets had plundered relevant machinery during their brief occupation. (As Seow explains, the CCP awkwardly navigated this plunder during the 1950s heyday of Sino-Soviet cooperation, 262). Despite the Nationalists’ inability to revitalize the mines, Seow concludes, “if we were to use the textbook definition of ‘technocracy’ as a ‘government of engineers,’ the [Nationalist] Chinese state actually appears to have come closer to that ideal than its Japanese counterpart” (254). Moreover, Seow argues in chapter six that the Communists took up this technocratic legacy with fervor in their management of Fushun. With a production-first ethos, the CCP employed Japanese engineers to help restore the mines to their prewar capacities, as had the Nationalists (pp. 263-269).[5] Following Lenin in regarding coal as the “grain of industry,” CCP leaders regarded ever-increasing extraction as key to socialist modernization, from the mechanization of food production to the development of urban transport and housing (270). According to Seow, Communist efforts to overturn inherited hierarchies of expertise made little headway at Fushun, where the idea was enshrined instead that “useful knowledge, be it from formally trained engineers or experienced workers, was that which helped further production for the advancement of the state.” (282). Among other things, the 1958 Great Leap Forward and ensuing catastrophic famine revealed the disastrous consequences of relentless coal-fired productivism. Carbon Technocracy’s thoughtful epilogue brings the story up to the present, highlighting Fushun’s “exhausted limits” as well as the deepened dependency of both China and Japan on fossil fuels during the past sixty years.

Ultimately, what does Seow’s concept of “carbon technocracy” help us to better understand? There are too many insights to adequately summarize here. Among them is how Japanese imperialists developed the coal mines in a manner that sharply limited Chinese workers’ organizing capacities both within and beyond the Fushun colliery. Their emphasis on technological refinement to maximize worker productivity (whether in terms of fingerprinting workers or improving pumping systems) inscribed racialized hierarchies and precluded civic actions on workers’ part. Seow carefully situates these developments amid rivalries between imperialist powers that commonly regarded “machines as the measure of men” and natural resource control as key to national survival.[6] Seow’s emphasis on the ways that inter-imperialist competition spurred technocratic impulses helpfully takes us away from culturalist explanations of technocracy’s appeal in East Asia (19). Further, Seow’s descriptions of mine operations show the entwinement of technological advances and fantasies of limitless carbon extraction. From this we see how groups as politically opposed as Mantetsu, the KMT, and the CCP all shared the desire to maximally extract fossil fuels and thereby created and perpetuated the logics of “carbon technocracy.” Among the tragedies of this commonality, as Seow underscores in the epilogue, is that the biosphere is indifferent to the political leanings of whoever is extracting and burning the fossil fuels. The impact of this extraction and burning also lands much more heavily on disenfranchised populations around the world. [7]

As might be expected, in identifying a thread that connects regimes that fought devastating wars against one another, important differences between these regimes recede from view. If “carbon technocracy” entails “marshalling science and technology toward the exploitation of fossil fuels for statist ends,” future historians will want to bring the differing politics of the states in question back into the picture (4). For instance, even if the biosphere is indifferent, as Seow indicates throughout it surely matters to other aspects of human wellbeing that Chinese Communists in the 1950s were mining coal to build up a socialist society rather than to racially dominate and plunder the Asia-Pacific region as per the wartime Japanese state. In this vein, when comparing the “technocracy” aspect of “carbon technocracy” across these varied regimes, we also need to consider how they differently conceptualized labor within the social hierarchy and what the application of scientific and technological expertise was supposed to do for it. Seow addresses questions of technology and labor most directly in the chapters on Japanese control of the Manchurian mines. If space had allowed, it might have been helpful to consider claims, based on postwar interviews conducted with female former mineworkers in metropolitan Japan, that the availability of an exploitable female labor force in the late 19th and early 20th centuries disincentivized colliery mechanization there.[8] Likewise, to include discussion in chapter five not just of Sun Yat-sen’s industrial development plans for China but of Sun’s (and his Nationalist followers’) thinking about the role of workers in these plans, which sharply contrasted with the roles Communists envisaged.[9] To be sure, Seow attends to how coal miners actually fared under Nationalist rule, and especially under the exhausting demands of CCP productivism in the 1950s. But efforts to change the social status of workers, to determine whether profits from extraction would be privately accumulated or publicly redistributed, to decide whether buildings would house nurseries for workers’ children or exist as segregated spaces for management (as Seow discusses on p. 283), doubtless also spelled differing types of expert rule with their own internal conflicts. Might any of these have pointed, at least potentially, to a world beyond relentless fossil fuel extraction? Could these pasts supply any alternative resources with which to help mend a planet beset by heatwaves, droughts, and catastrophic storms?

Seow’s book arrives as the climatic effects of fossil fuel consumption have become alarmingly apparent everywhere. Recent floods in Pakistan exacerbated by melting glaciers, drought and unrelenting heat in China, Europe, the U.S., and all around the globe bespeak the urgency of understanding the history that Seow traces. While Carbon Technocracy does not give much cause for optimism that a transition to renewable forms of energy in China will be any less technocratic than the exploitation of fossil fuels has been, it is an insightful and engaging book that should shape conversations about East Asia and energy for years to come.    


[1]Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (Verso 2011). Seow’s approach to technocracy also draws from Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Technopolitics, Modernity (University of California Press, 2002)

[2]Mitchell, Carbon Democracy, 21

[3]Among these are Li Hou, Building for Oil: Daqing and the Chinese Socialist State (Harvard University Asia Center, 2018); Judd C. Kinzley, Natural Resources and the New Frontier: Constructing Modern China’s Borderlands (University of Chicago Press, 2018); Grace Yen Shen, Unearthing the Nation: Modern Geology and Nationalism in Republican China (University of Chicago Press, 2014); Wu Lingjun, Meifu shiyou gongsi zai Zhongguo, 1870-1933 (Daoxiang chubanshe, 2001); Shellen Xiao Wu, Empires of Coal: Fueling China’s Entry into the Modern World Order, 1860-1920 (Stanford University Press, 2015)

[4]Christopher F. Jones, Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America (Harvard University Press, 2016).

[5]This emphasis aligns with recent work including Koji Hirata, “Made in Manchuria: The Transnational Origins of Socialist Industrialization in Maoist China,” The American Historical Review, vol. 126 no. 3 (2021): 1072-1101; and Amy King, “Reconstructing China: Japanese Technicians and Industrialization in the Early Years of the People’s Republic of China,” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 50 no 1 (2016): 141-174

[6]Michael Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance (Cornell University Press, 1989)  

[7] Thank you to Jia-Ching Chen for emphasizing this point in conversation about the book.

[8]W. Donald Burton, Coal Mining Women in Japan: Heavy Burdens (Routledge, 2014)

[9] Brian Tsui, China’s Conservative Revolution: The Quest for a New Order, 1927-1929 (Cambridge University Press, 2018).  


Brian Hioe, Can Chinese Nationalists (or Their Apologists) Please Shut Up about Zhonghua?

Brian Hioe, a writer and activist in Taiwan, has written a critique of the piece by Mark McConnaghy recently published on We are linking Brian’s piece here (with his permission, for the link and this preface) because we believe that having a conversation within the left on complex issues – such as Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which we all condemn – is important. Brian takes issue with Mark’s piece and we recognize these critiques as important substantive discussion points. We powerfully object, however, to Brian’s tone, which we read as contemptuous and condescending. There are many ways to have a conversation, although in these times, people seem to wish to shout at one another instead. In publishing Mark’s piece, we were not signaling our agreement with everything in it; however, we did hope that we could host a vigorous discussion about how to analyze, interpret, and write about Taiwan from a position that does not take mainstream discourses as its sole premise and point of departure. Mark’s piece does that, in our view; and Brian’s engagement, despite the tone, substantively does that too.   

AhnKim JeongAe, “Comfort Women” for the US Military in Korea Fight for Justice

Translated by Suzy Kim

Translator’s Introduction

The March 9, 2022 South Korean presidential election was narrowly won by the conservative People Power Party candidate, Yoon Suk-yeol, with just 0.73 percent more votes—the closest margin ever in South Korean electoral history. The decisive factor seems to have been younger voters in their 20s, whose votes overwhelmingly split along gender lines, with roughly 60 percent of women voting for Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung and 60 percent of men voting for Yoon. Yoon had rallied his base on an anti-feminist platform that denied systemic gender inequality and pledged to abolish gender quotas in ministerial appointments and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Given that mandatory military service for men is often touted as an example of “reverse discrimination,” regardless of how dubious such claims are, the history of militarisms in the region is essential for understanding contemporary politics and the urgent calls for justice.

On this anniversary of the end of the Asia Pacific War (August 15), it is worth remembering the multiple ways in which the war’s legacies remain. Despite continuous grass-roots efforts to overcome so-called “historical problems” across East Asia, the military alliances under US hegemony continue to supersede national sovereignty or people’s welfare. The “comfort women” issue discussed in AhnKim JoengAe’s translated piece below is a case in point. The translation has been lightly edited and the original Korean follows the translation.


“I don’t want to live an abandoned existence in the country where I was born, but to be a dignified woman of this land.” 
–Plaintiff Ms. Park’s court statement

“Comfort women” as a euphemism usually refers to the hundreds of thousands of women and girls forced into a system of military sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Asia Pacific War. Less well known is the fact that “comfort women” were also used by the US occupying forces in Korea and Japan after the end of the war, a practice which continued into the Korean War and thereafter.

In that sense, the “comfort women” system, whether under the Japanese, American, or Korean militaries, occurred in the context of militarism as the foundation for sexual violence against women. As part of the post-World War II order, US forces occupied Korea on September 8, 1945, south of the 38th parallel, building “camp towns,” or kijich’on, around the military bases. The founding of the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) in 1948 marked the beginning of the military security paradigm, which has remained, unchanged, as the root of the ROK-US alliance since the Korean War, when the US Army Forces in Korea (USAFIK) became a permanent presence on the peninsula. When the “Nixon Doctrine” threatened to withdraw US forces from Korea in 1968, the ROK government established and implemented a “camp town purification campaign” under the pretext of national security to justify and promote prostitution, despite its prohibition by law. The South Korean government ostensibly regarded the “comfort women” in the camp towns as “industrial workers,” “civil diplomats,” and “patriots,” but in effect controlled and managed their bodies for the US forces in Korea. The state had turned into a pimp. The policy was in direct violation of the state’s duty to protect its citizens as mandated by the constitution, since states are obligated to protect human rights, even when individuals fail to do so.

National security maintained through the silence of victims is meaningless. The 122 survivors of the USAFIK “comfort women” system resolved not to remain silent any longer, and on June 25, 2014, filed a compensation lawsuit against the South Korean government with the help of the newly formed Solidarity for USAFIK Comfort Women’s Human Rights organization. Launched on August 31, 2012, Solidarity is a coalition of local organizations such as My Sister’s Place (Durebang) and Sunlit Sisters’ Center (Haetsal) founded by US “comfort women” survivors and joined by scholars and lawyers from advocacy groups such as the National Campaign for Eradication of Crimes by US Troops in Korea, Lawyers for a Democratic Society and its Committee on US Military Problems. In its inaugural statement, the coalition declared its “main purpose was to restore the human rights of the camp town comfort women,” and “to oppose all violence against women and the structures through which such violence is reproduced, including prostitution and sexual violence due to the presence of the US military.” It further explained its aim to work toward “a society that can ultimately overcome differences in race, gender, and class, while publicizing the problems of the current US military camp towns as an international prostitution and marriage market.” Specific actions proposed included (1) filing a compensation lawsuit against the ROK and US governments, (2) enacting special laws for fact-finding and support of US military comfort women, (3) gathering and publishing the life history of the survivors, (4) promoting international solidarity with organizations in other countries with US military bases, and (5) publicity campaigns to educate the public.

For the first time in the history of the Republic of Korea, surviving women directly testified in court, supported by testimonies from clinical doctors, public officials, and scholars. On January 20, 2017, after two years and seven months of deliberations, the court officially confirmed and acknowledged that the state had perpetrated violence against the women and had violated their human rights. The verdict acknowledged that the state had failed in its obligation to protect its citizens and had created and maintained the camp towns at the request of the US military and US government, installing detention facilities and forcing victims into sexual slavery.

On February 8, 2018, the Court of Appeals went beyond acknowledging the verdict of the first trial and ruled in favor of all the plaintiffs, ordering that they be fully compensated for the violation of their human rights and dignity. The verdict held the state accountable for proactively operating and managing the camp towns through “patriotic” campaigns and the “violent management and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases by illegal means.”

However, eight years since the lawsuit was first launched, the Supreme Court has not yet reached a final decision. In the meantime, some of the 122 plaintiffs have died; three have passed away in just the last three months, and the current number of plaintiffs has been reduced to 111. In June 2019, the plaintiffs petitioned the court for a prompt ruling, requesting that “the difficult lawsuit be put to an end.” In November 2020, April 2021, and June 2022, Solidarity for USAFIK Comfort Women’s Human Rights also repeatedly urged the court for its decision, but so far the court has not issued its final judgment, offering no explanation for the delay. Delaying the ruling on such a women’s rights case disregards the plaintiff women whose rights should be protected by the judiciary; it amounts to negligence of the court’s civic duties, as it is supported by public taxes.

On April 29, 2020, the Gyeonggi Provincial Assembly passed the Ordinance in Support of Camp Town Women in Gyeonggi Province through the steadfast efforts of local groups over the past ten years. Gyeonggi Province, north of Seoul, is home to numerous US military bases and borders the De-Militarized Zone. On June 22, 2020, a similar ordinance was also passed by the Paju City Council in Gyeonggi. However, the relevant administrative department of Gyeonggi Province in charge of enforcing the above ordinance was able to cite the lack of a Supreme Court decision and thus nullify the work of the Camp Town Women’s Support Committee, which had been legally established by the Ordinance. This is why a prompt Supreme Court decision is necessary.

The Act on Fact-Finding and Support of Victims of the US Military Comfort Women Issue was submitted to the Standing Committee for Gender Equality and Family during the 19th National Assembly and has been pending ever since. The 21stAssembly is currently in session, but the subcommittee to review the bill has yet to convene because the ruling and opposition parties have not been able to reach an agreement. Furthermore, the future of the bill is uncertain due to the controversy over the existence of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family under the new Yoon Seok-yeol administration, which had campaigned on a platform to abolish it. The National Assembly has also cited the absence of a Supreme Court decision as a factor in its legislative delay. This is yet another reason why we need a prompt Supreme Court decision.

We, women, question the rationale for the state’s existence. Most of the plaintiffs are elderly, in their 70s and 80s, and they are in very poor health physically, mentally, and economically due to the long years of harm as “comfort women” for the US military. In addition to these plaintiffs, numerous US military “comfort women” scattered across the country are currently dying due to hardship and illness.

‘Delayed justice’ is not justice. The many survivors of the US military camp towns, living in the militarized and divided Korean peninsula, want justice. The delayed decision of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Korea must be made now.



AhnKim JeongAe is Co-Representative of the organization Solidarity for USAFIK Comfort Women’s Human Rights. She is a former member of the Presidential Truth Commission on Deaths in the Military, charged with investigating suspicious deaths in the South Korean military from 1948 to 2018. She also served as investigator in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea, which investigated state crimes against citizens committed by the military and the police, during the period from the Korean War through the authoritarian military rule of the 1980s.


한국정부를 상대로 미군위안부 국가배상소송 최종판결 지연과 문제점

안김정애 (기지촌여성인권연대 공동대표)

“나는 내가 태어난 나라에서 ‘버려진’ 존재로서가 아니라 이 땅에서 ‘당당  한’ 한 여성인격체로 살아가기를 원합니다.”
–원고 박00의 법정진술

한반도에서의 미군위안부 문제는 군사주의에 기반한 여성에 대한 성폭력이라는 측면에서 일본군위안부, 한국군위안부 문제와 동일한 맥락을 갖는다. 2차 세계대전 전후 처리 일환으로 1945년 9월 8일에 한반도 38선 이남에  진주한 주한미군은 주둔지 주변에 기지촌을 만들었다. 한국전쟁 발발 이후 현재까지 지속되고 있는 한미동맹을 근간으로 하는 군사안보 패러다임은 바뀌지  않고 있고, 특히 1968년 닉슨 독트린 발표 이후 주한미군 철수가 가시화되자  한국정부는 국가안보의 미명 하에 ‘기지촌 정화대책’을 수립· 실행하여 법률상  금지된 성매매를 정당화· 조장하는 불법행위를 자행하였다. 한국정부는 기지촌  미군 위안부 여성들을 표면상으로는 ‘산업역군,’ ‘민간외교관,’ ‘애국자’로 치켜  세우면서, 실질적으로 주한미군을 위해 이들의 몸을 직접 통제· 관리하였다. 국가가 포주였다. 이는 헌법상 명시된 국민을 보호할 의무를 국가가 저버린 행위였다. 설사 개인이 포기하더라도 국가가 지켜주어야 하는 것이 인권이다.


피해자의 침묵으로 유지되는 국가안보는 무의미하다. 122명의 피해 생존 여성들은 더 이상 침묵하지 않겠다고 결의하고, 2012년에 결성된 기지촌여성인권연대와 함께 2014년 6월 25일에 한국정부를 상대로 ‘기지촌 미군위안부국가배상청구소송’을 시작하였다. 2012년 8월 31일 출범한 기지촌여성인권연대는 미군위안부 생존자들이 활동하고 있는 두레방, 햇살사회복지 회 등 현장단체들과 주한미군범죄근절운동본부, 민주사회를위한변호사모임 미군문제연구위 원회, 관련주제 연구자와 학자들의 연대체로 구성되었다. 출범 선언문에서 “연대는 기지촌 미군위안부들의 인권회복을 주목적”으로 함을 천명하고, “미군 주둔으로 인한 성매매와 성폭력을 포함한 여성에 대한모든 폭력과, 폭력이 재생산되는 구조에 반대”하며, “국제적인 성매매 공간이자 결혼시장으로 변모하 고 있는 현재의 주한미군 기지촌의 문제를 공론화하면서 궁극적으로 인종· 성별· 계급의 차이를 극복 할 수 있는 사회를 추구”한다고 출범 이유를 밝히고 있다. 구체적인 행동으로 (1) 한·미정부를 상대로  한 국가배상소송 제기, (2) 미군위안부 문제의 진상규명 및 지원 등을 위한 특별법과 조례 제정, (3)생존 자 생애사 수집 정리 출간, (4)미군기지주둔국가 단체들과의 국제연대 도모, (5)대국민 홍보실시 등을  제시하였다.


대한민국 역사상 처음으로 생존 피해여성들의 법정에서의  직접증언이 이루어졌고, 이들의 증언을 뒷받침하는보건소 의사, 공무원, 학자들의 증언이 이어졌다. 1심 재판부는 2년 7개월 만인 2017년 1월 20일에 국가에 의한 폭력과 인권침해 사실을 공식적으로 확인· 인정하였는데, 국가가 국민 보호 의무를 포기하고, 주한미군과 미국 정부의 요청에 따라 기지촌 조성과 관리를 주도하였으며, 구체적으로 낙검자 강제수용소 설치 등 피해여성들을 미군 성노예로 내몰았음을 인정하는 판결이었다.


2018년 2월 8일, 항소심 재판부는 1심 판결을 인정하는 데서 나아가 ‘애국교육 실시,’ ‘위법한 절차에 따른 조직적· 폭력적 성병치료와 성병 관리,’ 등 피고인 국가가 적극적· 능동적으로 기지촌을 운영· 관리한 주체로, 원고들의 인격권과 인간의 존엄성을 침해하였음을 인정하여 원고 전원에게 손해배상 위자료를 지급할 것을 판결하였다.


그러나 소송이 시작된 지 8년이 지난 현재까지 대법원 최종판결이 나오지 않고 있다. 그동안 122명의 원고 중 일부가 사망했고, 최근 3개월 사이에도 3 명이 유명을 달리하셔서 현재 원고는 총 111명으로 줄어 들었다. 2019년 6월에는 원고들이 “지난한 소송에 마침표를 찍어 달라”는 취지로 작성한 조속한 대법원 판결 요구 탄원서가 제출하였고, 같은 취지로 기지촌여성인권연대 이름으로 2020년 11월과 2021년 4월, 2022년 6월, 세 차례에 걸쳐 대법원에 공문을 접수시키기도 했으나 현재까지 대법원은 아무런 해명없이 최종판결을 내놓지 않고 있다. 대법원이여성인권문제에 대한 판결을 지체하는 것은 사법부로부터 인권을 보호받아야 할 원고여성들에 대한 무시이며, 국민의 혈세를 받는 공무원으로서 직무유기에 해당한다.


지난 10년 간 현장단체들의 꾸준한 노력으로 2020년 4월 29일에 경기도 의회에서 ‘경기도 기지촌여성 지원 등에관한 조례’가 통과되었고, 이어서 6월 22일에는 파주시 의회에서도 유사 조례가 통과된 바 있다. 하지만 위 조례를 시행할 의무가 있는 경기도 행정담당 부서는 대법원 판결이 없다는 이유를 들어 조례에 근거하여 합법적으로출범한 ‘기지촌여성지원위원회’의 지원 관련 결정안을 무력화시키고 있다. 대법 판결이 조속히 이루어져야 할 이유이다. 그리고 19대와 20대에 이어 현재 21대 국회에서는 ‘미군위안부 문제에 대한 진상규명 및 피해자 지원 등에 관한 법률안’이 여성가족상임위에 상정되어 있지만 여야합의가 이루어지지 않아 법안심사소위도 개최되지못하고 있고, 윤석열 행정부 하에서 여가부 존폐 논쟁으로 법안의 앞날이 불투명한 상태이다. 국회 역시 대법원판결 부재를 입법 지체의 한 요인으로 꼽고 있는데, 이런 이유로도 대법원 판결은 조속히 이루어져야 한다.


우리 여성들은 국가의 존재 이유를 묻는다. 현재 원고들은 대부분 70∼80 대 고령의 나이로, 오랜 세월 미군위안부피해로 인해 신체적· 정신적· 경제적으로 매우 열악한 상태에 놓여 있다. 이들 원고들 뿐만 아니라 전국 각 지역에산재해 있는 수많은 미군위안부들이 생활고와 질병 등으로 이 시각, 생을 마감하고 있다.


‘지체된 정의’는 정의가 아니다. 지금 이 땅, 군사화되고 분단된 한반도의 현재를 살아가는 수많은 기지촌 미군위안부 생존자들은 조속한 정의가 실현되기를 바라고 있다. 지체되고 있는 대한민국 대법원 판결이 하루빨리 이루어져야 한다.

Mark McConaghy, Can Taiwanese Nationalists Think Zhonghua Once Again? Reflections on an Impossible Confederation Amid the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis

There could be no more fitting illustration of the arrogance of American power in the world than speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to the island of Taiwan. After days of breathless will-she-or-won’t she anticipation, and furious Chinese government warnings, Pelosi’s U.S. Air Force C-40 touched down in Taipei a little before 11pm local time on Tuesday August 2nd. It was the first time in twenty-five years an American speaker of the House has visited the island in an official capacity. 

Over the next 18 hours Pelosi luxuriated in photo ops with Taiwanese politicians and business leaders, lunched in a colonial mansion once built by occupying Japanese forces, and even found time to stroll around the grounds of a Chinese Nationalist (KMT) detainment center that has been turned into a human rights museum. Placing her visit within a binary global frame of “autocracy” vs. “democracy,” Pelosi spoke repeatedly about the “ironclad” commitment of the United States to Taiwan, an odd statement from the representative of a government that does not recognize Taiwan as an independent state.

Pelosi casually tossed away the suggestion that what she was doing was out of line with longstanding diplomatic precedent, or that her visit was inflammatory at a time of incredible tension between Euro-America and Russia/China. With the world roiling from a brutalizing ground war in Eastern Europe, inflationary pressures across global supply chains, climate catastrophe, two simultaneous pandemics, and the generalized market inequality of 21st-century capitalist life, it is remarkable that Pelosi felt the best use of her time would be to publicly embarrass the Chinese military, then depart the region under US military escort to leave her Taiwanese counterparts – and the people of Taiwan — to face the inevitable backlash.

Flash forward twenty-four hours, and the excited local cheerfulness over official American attention in Taiwan has turned into fretful anxiety over live-fire military exercises around the island launched by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). According to recent reports, eleven dongfeng missiles have landed in the seas around Taiwan (four of which went directly over the island), amidst a six-zone ring of military activity that has been discussed as a potential permanent blockade by the PRC of the island. The economic damage occasioned by Pelosi’s visit is already being borne by Taiwanese farmers, fisherman, and merchants – whose products are now being banned in the PRC — while critical commercial shipping and flight paths have been disrupted, potentially permanently. Taiwan’s air and naval forces, quantitatively overmatched in comparison to their Chinese counterparts, have mobilized for a reactive war. American naval assets continue to stay in the region, but they offer scant information and even less reassurance. Between Taiwan and the Mainland, a new normal of  threatened military confrontation, economic disruption, and utter disregard for diplomatic de-escalation seems upon us.

It is critical at this point to produce some kind of grounded critique of how matters have spiraled so completely into this impasse. At the most basic level of analysis one can say that the current predicament is an expression of the long-standing hubris of all three governments involved in the crisis. This has involved  the active promotion of discourses and policies that inflame and divide, the weakening over time of de-escalation mechanisms, and the abandonment of productive, long-standing norms. All three governments are culpable in bringing us to this point.

Pelosi’s visit has been called reckless (Thomas Friedman in the New York Times) and the basic contradiction in the US stance regarding the Chinese world has been critiqued (that is, constantly treating Taiwan as an independent state while publicly assuring the PRC  that they stand against Taiwan’s independence). The hypocrisy of the Chinese position should also be critically noted: though the PRC proclaims that “across the strait all are one family” (兩岸一家親), if this were even remotely the case why would it be necessary to threaten to invade and occupy Taiwan? By mobilizing for war, China has proven to the world that the Republic of China on Taiwan is an independent country which they can only try to control from the outside. Meanwhile, China’s words and actions will only further amplify the distrust the Taiwanese people feel toward that regime. Each day of military threat to Taiwan creates more of the enemies the PRC claims they need to stamp out. It is a classic expression of a colonizer’s dilemma.  

But let us also focus on the Taiwanese government, which is not blameless in this whole affair. While it is sometimes argued that Taiwan as a state is “caught” between two superpowers (or empires) with little agency of its own, in fact Taiwanese governments over time have had considerable options available when it comes to managing cross-straits relations. This is clear with the different nature of those relations under various administrations since democratization (1990s). The Taiwanese government is not a passive actor. Rather, we must look at how current Taiwanese state rhetoric and policies have inflamed tensions considerably since Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power with a parliamentary majority in 2016. Indeed, with the US and China locked in a battle for global geopolitical and economic hegemony, it will be largely up to the people of Taiwan to come up with productive solutions that keeps war at bay. For this reason, a critique of Taiwan’s government is vitally important. 

Cross-straits relations are volatile, and they are held together by a series of necessary and productive ideological sleights of hand (strategic ambiguity, in popular parlance). When the political leaders of the United States abandoned their diplomatic recognition of the ROC on Taiwan in 1972/1979, they were still afflicted by lingering affection for their long standing KMT allies. The US thus passed the Taiwan Relations Act through Congress, which provided for continued arm sales to the island and vague claims about the US defense of the island’s integrity. On the face of it, this is paradoxical. Why would the United States government allow arms sales to a regime whose national legitimacy it had just denied? Here is the first sleight of hand. While the formal derecognition allowed the US to publicly declare fealty to a mandated “one China” policy, the Act allowed the US to declare support for Taiwan; at the same time,  all sides began massive capitalist investment in China under Deng Xiaoping’s reforms while also managing and ignoring the ambiguous volatility

For its part, the PRC government always protested the arms sales, but with the re-orientation of the economy towards capitalism, the focus turned to GDP maximization with an influx of foreign investment and market liberalization. Thus, the second ideological sleight of hand: while the ROC on Taiwan was still a de-facto independent state, the PRC on the mainland could insist that a process of peaceful rapprochement and eventual reunification was underway. It could treat the island in juridical terms as one territory among many within one China headed by the CCP. Meanwhile, capitalist market reforms set soon made mainland China one of the world’s largest centers of capital accumulation, while producing deep economic links with both Taiwan and the United States. Indeed, Taiwan remains one of the largest capital investors in China and itself is reliant on the Mainland for a significant portion of its overall exports. In 2021, the Mainland and Hong Kong accounted for 42% of Taiwan’s exports (over 188 billion USD), compared to just 15% for the United States.1 Ambiguous volatility again was managed.

Political and economic normalization across the straits was achieved by the so-called 1992 consensus, essentially an agreement between the CCP and the then-ruling KMT on Taiwan to conceptualize cross-straits relations as a question internal to the Sino-world (what can be called the 中華世界 zhonghua world). Within this framework, disagreements between the two parties over sovereignty, governance, and history were to be worked out directly, on their own timelines, without outside interference. While distrust and armed deterrence still existed, and while threats were always on the horizon and at times exploded into confrontation, nevertheless the consensus struck a fragile but crucial balance. With Taiwan considered by both governments as internal to the Sino-world, the option of removing the island from a pan-Chinese framework (that is, the option of Taiwan declaring independence) was taken off the table, thus respecting the PRC’s ideological red line against an autonomous Taiwanese republic. Connected through independent, if informal, diplomatic relations to Japanese and Euro-American allies, who never stopped their own commercial, technological, and cultural relations with the island, over time, Taiwan was able to build a society defined by democratic governance and intellectual openness. This social form stood as a daily rebuke to the essentialist fantasy about “Chinese culture” being incompatible with democracy. In this sense, Taiwan occupied the Sino-world in a very unique way.

With the election of the DPP in 2016, the fragile commitment to a zhonghua world disappeared. The DPP immediately rejected the 1992 consensus. In rejecting the bilateral framework between Taiwan and China, Tsai’s administration rushed into the arms of the American security empire, almost begging the Americans to make Taiwan into a full neo-colony. And with Trump’s election in the US, US-China tensions began to  rise precipitously. From 2016 onward, there have been few positive statements from Tsai Ing-wen and other senior ministers in Taiwan about anything related to China, not just as a country, but as an inherited culture of reference. Instead, there are endless invocations of the shared values of “democracy” and “freedom” that define the “Indo-Pacific” region led by the United States. The DPP’s de-Sinicization efforts have attempted to transform Taiwan, through sheer magical thinking alone, into a society that exists without reference to a larger overall modern Chinese project. This has hollowed the ROC state form  of pan-Chinese meaning all together.2 The fine line between Taiwan as geopolitically part of the PRC (rejected by most Taiwanese) and Taiwan as historically part of a Sino (zhonghua) world has been erased.

In this sense, the PRC are not wrong in their critique of the DPP as a political institution committed to de-sinicization. The origins of the DDP as a formal political party can be found in Taiwan’s nativization (本土化) movement, which began from the late 1970s and has gathered momentum over the following three decades, having now become the dominant ideological force on the island. Born out of justified outrage over the denigration of local Taiwanese languages and histories, as well as the authoritarian policies of the KMT’s post-1949 one-party regime, intellectuals such as Yeh Shih-tao, Su Beng, Chen Fangming, Tzeng Guei-hai and many others mobilized post-colonial theory to create a new idea  of the Taiwanese as a self-determining people, ethnically, linguistically, historically, and politically distinct from China across the straits.

Taiwanese nativist scholarship is thus marked by an intense search for “Taiwanese subjectivity” (台灣主體性): those elements of Taiwan’s history which can be seen as forming the basis of a distinct national consciousness. As the scholar Su Beng, repeatedly celebrated publicly by Tsai Ing-wen, put it in a famed moment of his nationalist historiography A Four Hundred Year History of the Taiwanese People (台灣人四百年史):

The struggle against A-shan (阿山, i.e. Mainlanders) that defined the 228      revolution… thoroughly destroyed the connections within the realm of consciousness that the Taiwanese people had with the Chinese people,  connections that had once existed because of the shared blood relations between them. Taiwanese nationalism, that is the fervent desire for the independence of the Taiwanese ethnic-people, began to advocate for the interests of its people, concerning itself with the fate and future of its people. This thoroughgoing national ideal became the Taiwanese people’s single and highest principle.3


This Taiwanese nationalism is the epistemic fuel that fires the current government’s political agenda in Taiwan. It has upset the delicate balance of cross-strait relations. When the notion of the Sino (中華zhonghua) is completely eliminated, there remains little shared epistemic framework between Taiwan and the PRC, to say nothing of political sympathy or trust. To be clear, it is obvious that Su Beng can say whatever he wishes; it is the Taiwan government’s embrace of this position that contributes now to the epistemic and political impasse.

The tenor of discourse in the Taiwanese media, on the Taiwanese internet, and from sections of the Taiwanese government, make it all but impossible today to suggest that Taiwan must find some way to think the Sino once again. Any such suggestion automatically opens one up to being stigmatized as a sellout, of welcoming unification under PRC rule, or of being a fellow traveler of the CCP. The mayor of Taipei, Ko Wen-je, whose family was a victim of the 228 violence in 1947, has been critiqued in such terms.

Yet material realities of geography, history, language, state structure, as well as forces and relations of production across the strait cannot be dislodged by sheer ideological incantation alone. Has this recent crisis not shown what happens when a government wholeheartedly becomes the pawn of American geo-political gamesmanship? And when the PRC, in its own nationalist interests, takes advantage of this situation?

The Sino-world may be on the precipice of war. The only responsible path forward is to rethink it in loose, flexible, but integrated ways, safeguarding the security, dignity, and peace of the multiple nations, peoples, regions, and societies that comprise it, while recognizing the manifold layers of its material and ideational past, as well as its potentially shared future.

In my view, this rethinking is not possible if the Taiwanese government continues to hold to its unwavering nativist nationalist position, and if it continues to believe in the ideological fantasy that American assistance will provide protection and peace for the island (Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, among many others, all suggest otherwise). One way of signaling to Beijing a genuine desire for peace would be to start to speak and think through the category of the Sino (zhonghua) once again. The category has served as an important source of fragile cohesion and delicate trust in the region in the past. It also has the added benefit of largely according with the socio-cultural realities of the island’s own life world.

To be clear, a discourse on the Sino is not adequate alone. We need to remain critical of the way in which capitalist accumulation in both societies work to deepen social inequalities, and the way in which “cross-strait” relations are, first and foremost, capitalist relations. Here, it is important not to fall into the trap of “a global analytical turn that takes the culture of the state and the state of culture- not materialist political economy in all its breadth and depth- as the magic conceptual determinant of history and the arbiter of the present/future.”4 When we do so, we normalize the “magical fantasy of capitalism with no limits,”5 which leftist thinkers must resist..

However, if the drums of war are to be silenced, some basic framework must be re-forged to bring cross-strait relations back onto a peaceful track. There is a line of historical socialist thinking in Taiwan- one that stretches from at least Xie Xuehong to Chen Yingzhen- that once upon a time elaborated  the Sino as a necessary and productive category to think and manage cross-straits relations. It is this legacy that I propose remains  relevant today.6

For its part, Beijing must guarantee that no part of the Sino-world be subject to violence by any other part, and that differences across countries, states, ethnicities, and regions are respected.

Yet is there anybody on either side of the strait that has the courage to think, no less speak, in these terms? Can the US intervention be stemmed? We are talking here not of forced reunification, nor of perpetual military gamesmanship, nor of the fantasy of outside hegemons keeping a chimerical peace. Rather, we are speaking of a quiet federalism of dignity, mutual recognition, and peace.

This, it seems to me, is the only morally responsible position for progressive thinkers. Anything else is just goading on the forces of war.

Mark McConaghy, National Sun Yat-sen University, Kaoshiung, Taiwan



1 See the ROC’s Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Bureau of Foreign Trade for relevant statistics: For popular reporting, see Evelyn Chang, “Taiwan’s trade with China is far bigger than its trade with the U.S.”

2 For a critique of this ideological sleight of hand performed by the Tsai administration, see McConaghy, Mark. “The Potentials and Occlusions of Zhonghua Minguo/Taiwan: In Search of a Left Nationalism in the Tsai Ing-wen Era” Open Cultural Studies, vol. 6, no. 1, 2022, pp. 38-53.

3 Shih, Ming (1980). A Four Hundred Year History of the Taiwanese People (台灣人四百年史). Pengdao Culture, p. 1096.

4 Rebecca Karl, The Magic of Concepts: History and the Economic in Twentieth-Century China, Duke University Press, p.72

5 Ibid.

6 For Xie Xuehong’s socialist project, see Mark McConaghy. “Between Centralizing Orthodoxy and Local Self-Governance: Taiwanese Sinophone Socialism in Hong Kong, 1947-1949” The Journal of Asian Studies (ISSN: 0021-9118). 81:1, pp. 63-79. (February 2022). One of Chen Yingzhen’s most powerful statements regarding what he saw as the historically necessary inter-relationship between socialism and pan-Chinese thought in the Sinitic world is his “Towards a Broader Historical Vision (向著更寬廣的歷史視野),” reprinted in Shi Minhui, ed., 1988, Selections from the Debate on Taiwanese Consciousness (台灣意識論戰選集), Taibei: Qianwei Chubanshe, 31- 37. Chen Kuan-hsing’s leftist critique of Taiwanese nationalist thought is also relevant here: “The slighting of racial, class, gender, and other marginal perspectives with a fixation on ethnicity, is the Taiwanese nationalists’ most tragic blind spot.” Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, p. 53.