Smeared by Mainland Propaganda, Taiwan Diplomat Commits Suicide

Fake news created impression that Taipei failed to help citizens stranded in Japan during typhoon
September 17, 2018 Updated: September 18, 2018

Su Chi-cheng, director of the Taiwan Representative Office in Osaka, Japan, committed suicide on Sept. 14 following heavy criticism for his supposed negligence in the rescue of citizens stranded at Kansai Airport during heavy rains caused by Super Typhoon Jebi.

The criticism was based on false reports by mainland Chinese media claiming that the People’s Republic of China consular authorities in Japan had sent buses to pick up stranded mainland citizens, leading to an uproar in Taiwan — officially the Republic of China — over Su Chi-cheng’s seeming failure to rescue ROC citizens in Japan.

Later reports, however, revealed that all rescue operations had been handled by the Japanese authorities.

Super Typhoon Jebi struck Japan on Sept. 4, causing heavy downpours across the western part of the country and grounding flights out of Kansai Airport, located on an artificial island near Osaka. During the typhoon, a ship lost control and collided with the bridge servicing the airport, stranding 7,800 passengers and workers on the island.

Following inspections, the authorities opened the north side of the damaged bridge and chartered buses and vessels to evacuate all people at the airport.

On Sept. 7, Chinese media reported that the Chinese Consulate General in Osaka had chartered 15 buses and picked 1044 Chinese passengers trapped in Kansai Airport up and sent them to Osaka in six trips on Sept. 5. According to the reports, the 1044 passengers included 115 Hong Kong residents, five people from Macao, and 32 Taiwanese citizens who claimed mainland citizenship.

The report also claimed that Frank Hsieh Chang-ting, the Taiwan’s representative to Japan, said that the Representative Offices in Osaka and Hokkaido were too busy to render aid to about hundreds of trapped Taiwanese tourists, and that the Hokkaido Office had only two clerks.

The propaganda was widely spread in both Taiwan and mainland China. A typical mainland comment went: “In times of need, we have a strong country to back us.” The news stirred public outrage in Taiwan, with protests against the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan — the official name of Taiwan’s de facto ambassadorial agencies.

Taiwan is the last unconquered province of the Republic of China, which lost control of the mainland to communist forces in 1949 in the Chinese Civil War. 

ROC Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu made statements to soothe the angry public, while Frank Hsieh Chang-ting organized all six ROC representative offices in Japan to discuss how to improve their work during emergencies.

On Sept. 11, Japan’s Sankei Shimbun published a report contradicting the mainland Chinese media’s description of events.

Quoting a Kansai Airport spokeswoman, Sankei reported that no buses were allowed to enter the airport during Super Typhoon Jebi except those belonging to the Japanese authorities.

“Kansai Airport evacuated all the passengers to the rail station in Izumisano but sent the Chinese passengers to the parking lot of the Izumisano shopping mall,” according to Sankei, “Then China’s buses picked the passengers up and sent them to Osaka.”

After Su Chi-cheng died, both Taiwan’s Presidential Office and Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued statements of mourning. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the public to give more support to all Taiwan diplomats.

Kuan Bi-ling, a member of the ROC Legislative Yuan, said on Facebook that “a combination of fake news and text messages caused a diplomat to sacrifice his life. This is not the true meaning of democracy.”

Thirty-three years ago, Su Chi-cheng studied at Osaka University and then worked for the representative office in Osaka for three years. In 1991, Su entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was sent to Tokyo as secretary of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in 2007. In 2013, Su was promoted to be the director of the representative office in Naha, Okinawa, then transferred to Osaka in July 2018.

Su was 60 years old, and is survived by two children and his wife, who is a university professor.