TAIPEI, Taiwan – A group of Taiwanese university students has set up a Nazi political movement advocating national unity, strength and curbing immigration, the group's co-founder said Wednesday.
The National Socialism Association currently has 20 paid-up members, with another 800 who have used the group's Web site to indicate an interest in joining, co-founder Chao Lahn, 24, said.
The site is emblazoned with a Nazi swastika and says the group's ranks are reserved for people "who do not dislike (Adolf) Hitler," the Nazi dictator whose regime systematically murdered 6 million Jews during World War II.
But Chao, studying for his Masters in political science at Taipei's prestigious National Chengchi University, denied he was anti-Jewish, and maintained his intention was to foster greater nationalism in Taiwan, an island of 23 million people off China's southeastern coast.
"My main goal is to develop Taiwan's strength and to foster national unity," Chao said. "I think we have to work hard to restore traditional Chinese values like Confucianism."
Rafi Gamzou, director of the Israeli representative office in Taipei, deplored the emergence of the Nazi movement in Taiwan.
"This is an upsetting and worrisome phenomenon," he said. "I believe the educational sector of Taiwan should question itself about how come a group of young people, some with academic backgrounds, decided to worship the monstrous Adolf Hitler."
While high school and university courses do cover the European experience during World War II, relatively few Taiwanese understand the revulsion — and the reasons for it — that Nazism conjures up in the West.
Hitler images and iconography have sometimes been used to promote commercial products in Taiwan — including a now-closed Nazi-themed restaurant — on the grounds that the German leader symbolized strength.
There is no indigenous Jewish community on the island, and most Taiwanese seem confused by distinctions among European populations and religions.
Chao, who said he had taken courses on modern European history in high school and college, told The Associated Press his group would apply to Taiwan's Interior Ministry to be recognized as an official organization. He said the group would hold its inaugural convention in the central city of Taichung on Saturday.
Interior Ministry official Lu Ching-yen said a decision on the group's application would be made when it is received.
"The process for handling the application will depend on (its) substance," he said.
Chao declined to say how many people the group expected for Saturday's meeting, but indicated that many would be high school students.
"We don't even have to recruit them," he said. "They come to us out of their own accord."
Chao said he did not accept all of Hitler's Nazi ideology and denied he was a racist.
However, he said, he advocated imposing limits on the number of foreign workers in Taiwan.
Taiwan currently hosts about 300,000 manual laborers, caregivers and others, most from neighboring Southeast Asia countries.
Emile Sheng, formerly of Taipei's Soochow University, and now an official in the city's municipal government, said the emergence of Taiwan's Nazi movement reflected the island's ignorance of modern Western history.
"People here don't really understand what Nazism is," he said. "They're not really racist or anti-Jewish. They don't even know what it means."
Sheng said one of his students at Soochow had been Hsu Na-chi, who is the other founder of the National Socialism Association.
"I barely remember her," he said. "She was quiet in class, not the kind of student who made an impression."