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Yakuza, White Wolf of the Bamboo Union, and Chinese Communist United Front
The Asian Crime Century briefing twenty one
The Bamboo Union (竹聯幫) triad society in Taiwan has reportedly invited members of the Kyokuryu-kai yakuza group from Okinawa to visit and attend several banquets. The invitation was jointly from the Chinese Unification Promotion Party (CUPP) and a branch of the ‘Hongmen’, a patriotic society that is believed to be a front for the Bamboo Union.
During their visit last week, the Kyokuryu-kai Yakuza members were scheduled to visit the mausoleum of former Kuomintang leader Chiang Ching-kuo, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, the Legislative Yuan, and the Presidential Office. The Yakuza members would also meet Chang An Lo (pictured above), a former leader of the Bamboo Union (a Taiwanese criminal group), a convicted criminal himself, and leader of the CUPP. The CUPP banquet was held in a restaurant in the Songshan District of Taipei, attended by 162 people and monitored by 83 police officers.
The Yakuza visit comes soon after the ostentatious banquet held by the Bamboo Union at a hotel in Taipei in March, where guests were greeted by 170 young women and a parade of luxury sports cars. After that high profile event, the Taiwan Premier instructed the National Police Agency and the Ministry of Justice to step up efforts against organised crime in Taiwan.
This is not the first contact between the Kyokuryu-kai and the Bamboo Union, which reportedly participated in events hosted by the Yakuza group from 2015. Taiwanese and Japanese news media has reported that in 2018 Chang Wei, the second son of Chang An Lo, led members of the Bamboo Union to Okinawa for a meal with senior Yakuza members.
The Okinawa Kyokuryu-kai is a designated Boryokodan group listed by the National Police Agency in Japan. The original Kyokuryu-kai was formed in 1970 as an effort by criminals in Okinawa to prevent Yakuza groups from mainland Japan from developing their business in the province. This prolonged conflict was from around 1973 to 1981 and involved efforts by the Yamaguchi-gumi Yakuza group trying to expand its business in Okinawa. The Okinawa Kyokuryu-kai group is reported to have around 300 members, and was formed from a violent split from the Kyokuryu-kai in 1990 when seven people were killed, thirteen injured, 220 Yakuza were arrested, and 42 firearms seized by the police.
There are long standing links between criminals in Taiwan and Okinawa. The flight time from Taipei to Okinawa is 1.5 hours over a distance of 641 kilometres. In 2019, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that Taiwan had become an increasingly important transit point or source of crystalline methamphetamine trafficked to the broader Asian region. In 2018, a Taiwanese man was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for smuggling 597 kg of illegal drugs into Okinawa, with two other Taiwanese men who assisted him sentenced to ten years prison. In 2016, six Taiwanese nationals were arrested by the Okinawa police for trying to smuggle 600 kilograms of amphetamines with a market value of US$ 380 million, the largest ever drug seizure in Okinawa at that time. This situation is one that is ripe for collaboration between criminal groups in Taiwan and Okinawa.
The White Wolf and the Bamboo Union
The most notorious member of the Bamboo Union triad society is Chang An Lo, also known as the ‘White Wolf’. Chang was convicted of drug smuggling in the USA in 1985 and served ten years in prison. He fled from Taiwan in 1996 after being listed as wanted by the authorities, living in Shenzhen in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), He founded the Chinese Unity Promotion Party in 2004, and since then has been a vocal supporter of the unification of Taiwan with the PRC. Chang returned to Taiwan in 2013 and remains an active supporter of the PRC, although he is suspected to use his political activities as a front for the Bamboo Union.
The Bamboo Union, or Chuk Luen Bong (竹聯幫 , United Bamboo Gang), was formed in Taiwan in 1956, and was comprised of many offspring of mainland Chinese who had fled from the communist forces in 1949 and were generally supportive of the Kuomintang. One group of Chinese exiles residing at Wing Wor Village on the outskirts of Taipei were repeatedly attacked and extorted by established local gangs, and so they grouped together to form the Chuk Luen Bong, literally translated as ‘Bamboo United Gang’ with the name derived from the bamboo groves that surrounded Wing Wor Village. The Bamboo United Gang were generally supportive of the Kuomintang and flourished. In the next several decades they developed working relationships with other organised crime groups, such as the Wah Ching in the USA, Yakuza groups in Japan, and various Triad societies in Hong Kong.
After the retreat of the Nationalist government to Taiwan, their military and intelligence agencies continued to utilise secret societies. The most notorious case of collaboration between the Nationalist government and the Bamboo Union was the murder in 1984 of Henry Liu, a naturalised US citizen, shot and killed outside his home in California. Despite initial denials, in January 1985 the Nationalist government in Taiwan announced that intelligence officials had been involved in planning the murder that was carried out by members of the Chuk Luen Bong. The involvement of the Nationalist government centred on Vice-Admiral Wang Chi Li, head of the Intelligence Bureau of the Ministry of National Defence, who met with Chen Chi Li and United Bamboo Gang leaders in Taipei in July 1984 and criticised overseas Chinese including Henry Liu for their betrayal of Taiwan.
The CUPP and Chinese Communist Party united front
The CUPP is a Chinese nationalist political party formed in Taiwan in 2005 as an offshoot of its Guangzhou faction. The party receives little public support, but claims membership of around 30,000 people. The CUPP openly advocates the peaceful reunification of Taiwan with the People’s Republic of China and the ‘one country, two systems’ formula. The CUPP is believed to be a tool of CCP united front.
‘United front’ is an integral part of how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its agencies influence thinking in other countries. The CCP works to bring diverse factions of society into a ‘united front’, dominated by the Party. Dr. Gerry Groot of the University of Adelaide has described the CCP’s United Front work as, at its most basic level: “Rallying all those who can be rallied; uniting with all those who can be united (and isolating our enemies).”
There have been allegations of links between the CUPP and Chinese Communist Party united front related organisations for many years. In 2017, former Taiwan President Lee Teng Hui stated that the Chinese Communists had diversified their united front activities by recruiting pro-unification supporters and sponsoring organized criminal activities in Taiwan to stir ethnic conflict and destabilize society.
The CUPP is also reported to have collaborated with CCP disinformation networks known as “content farms” and is suspected to receive covert funding from China. Recent examples of CUPP pro-CCP activities have been dousing visiting Hong Kong activist and singer Denise Ho with red paint in September 2019 and unsuccessfully attempting to hold a rally in Taipei celebrating the People’s Republic of China National Day on 1st October.
Media reports in Taiwan have stated that the joint organiser of the invitation to the Yakuza to visit Taipei was a Taipei branch of the ‘Hongmen’. “Hongmen” (洪門, or Hung Mun) is another name that originates from the Tin Tei Wui (Heaven and Earth Association), one of the variations of Chinese secret societies and which as discussed in the introduction are not all criminal. “Hongmen” exist in many overseas Chinese communities as mutual aid associations, notably in North America in the 19th century where Chinese immigrants who were Hongmen members formed new branches such as the Kwong Duck Tong, Hip Yee Tong, and On Sun Tong.
However, Hongmen are also increasingly used as a tool of CCP united front to garner support from overseas Chinese for the CCP. In 2013, former leader of the Macau faction of the 14K Triad society, Wan Kuok Koi, became President of the “World Hongmen History and Culture Association” (世界洪門歷史文化協會) with the defined purpose “To love the nation, organize cultural exchange activities in various places, and pass on the history and culture of the Revolution of 1911.” The membership is for “Anyone who loves to study the history of the Revolution of 1911 and can actively participate in the event and is willing to abide by the chapter and be approved by the board of directors.” In a speech in February 2018, Wan stated that he planned to establish a “Hongmen Security Company” for Chinese merchants on the “One Belt One Road” initiative and that the motto of the Association is “loving and supporting the country, Macau, and Hong Kong.” Wan said in his speech, leaked in a video clip, that “I will do my utmost to promote the national policy and assist in whatever way for peaceful and united cross-straits relations.”
A Yakuza group in Okinawa visiting a Taiwanese criminal gang, the Bamboo Union, whose former leader heads a China unification party that is in turn linked to CCP united front activities illustrates the complexity of organised crime in Asia. The risk of political involvement with organised crime in Asia is not new, and history tells us much about the present in this area.
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