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     Oct 23, 2010

China scholars enter Okinawa fray
By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO - To much of the world, the Japanese island of Okinawa is synonymous with vast United States military bases and the troubled relationship between servicemen and locals who want the Americans out. In recent years, however, the specter of anti-Chinese sentiment is also in the air.

Powerful Chinese interests now laying claim to sovereignty of the  Okanawa islands - which is located halfway between Kyushu and Taiwan - may increase the antagonism over the disputed Senkaku Islands (known by China as the Diaoyu Islands), which are also administered as part of Okinawa prefecture.

Anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan is high after Beijing's recent display of territorial belligerence over the sovereignty of the islands in the East China Sea spooked Tokyo. Neighboring nations, especially South Korea and Vietnam - once China's tribute states - have already been made to feel more nervous in their disputes


with China over island territories. This is because Beijing has expressed Asian waters as a "core interest" to counter United States moves to gain more influence in the region as a counter to China's rise. China's claims of primacy over the sovereignty of its near waters are encouraging increased discussion among its neighbors regarding naval collaboration.

''It is a bit surprising to see such a move,'' Kurayoshi Takara, professor of the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, told Asia Times Online. ''Those who claim Okinawa land may reflect increased national prestige and chauvinistic voices in China. Or they may see their chance to claim it, as Japan-US relations have been strained by a row over the relocation of a US Marine base in Okinawa.''

Beijing's recent diplomacy against Norway over the Nobel committee awarding the 2010 Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, shows signs of Beijing further asserting itself on the world stage. China's control of the distribution of rare-earth minerals that play essential roles in numerous industrial processes, including high-technology and military industries, presents another reason why Japan is leery - even as Beijing denied a New York Times report that it was halting exports of the minerals to Japan, the United States and Europe.

Japan-China relations deteriorated to their lowest point in years in the wake of a dispute over Japan's arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain in early September over a collision with the Japanese Coast Guard near the Senkaku islands. Chinese media reported last week that a fisheries patrol boat set sail for waters near the islands to protect Chinese fishing boats.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was damaged politically by his handling of the detention of the trawler skipper, came to power this year after his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, reneged on an election promise to enter negotiations with the United States to move the American bases off Okinawa.

Chinese scholar affirms Okinawa claim
More than a few Chinese scholars are beginning to claim Okinawa as Chinese land by writing numerous academic papers in Chinese journals, though they are still in a minority among historians.

Xu Yong, noted professor of history at the Beijing University, is among scholars whose work presents the Chinese case. Xu was a member of the Japan-China Joint History Research Committee, set up in 2006 under an agreement between then-prime minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Hu Jintao. This was an attempt to salvage bilateral relations that dived during the time of Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, and his regular visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine memorializing Japan's war dead (including Class A war criminals such as Hideki Tojo).

Xu has said in research papers and recent symposiums that the issue of sovereignty over Okinawa is unsettled because the Qing Dynasty of China did not approve when Japan abolished the Kingdom of Ryukyu and set up Okinawa Prefecture in 1879.

The US put Okinawa under its control after World War II on the Potsdam Declaration without any legitimate basis in international law, Xu has said. He has claimed that the abolition of the kingdom by the Meiji government in 1879, US control over Okinawa even after the war and Okinawa's reversion to Japanese sovereignty from US occupation in 1972, were all illegitimate, which in return affirmed China's right to claim Okinawa.

Anti-Japan protesters also claim Okinawa Chinese scholars are not alone in staking claims for Okinawa. Recent anti-Japan protesters in Chinese cities have made the same claim. For example, a Reuters photo taken on September 16 in Chengdu showed that young anti-Japanese marchers brandished a big Chinese-language banner reading ''Restore Ryukyu! Liberate Okinawa''.

Most Japanese experts on China see the Chinese authorities approval of anti-Japanese protests as an outlet for Chinese people's frustrations toward their society, as they struggle to express freedom of speech, find jobs and buy affordable homes.

A common view of the modern history of Okinawa among Japanese scholars goes like this: Okinawa flourished as an independent trading nation, the Kingdom of Ryukyu, over several centuries, until 1609, when the Shimazu family, feudal lords of the Satsuma domain - today's Kagoshima Prefecture of Kyushu Island - conquered the Ryukyus.

But the Edo government allowed the Ryukyus to trade with the Qing Dynasty of China for its own profit and to collect information on China. In this sense, the Ryukyus were tribute states towards both Japan and China.

But in 1879, the Meiji government formally abolished the Ryukyus and established Okinawa Prefecture, sending a big shock to the Qing Dynasty. Fifteen years later, Japan was victorious in the Sino-Japanese War, and gained control over the Korean Peninsula. Towards the end of World War II, Okinawa became the biggest and most crucial battlefield between the US and Japan.

In his Pulitzer-prize-winning book Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, American scholar Herbert Bix wrote that the Okinawa battle "cost an estimated 94,000 to 120,000 Japanese combatants and 150,000 to 170,000 non-combatants, including more than 700 Okinawans whom the Japanese army forced to commit collective suicide. American combat losses were approximately 12,500 killed and more than 33,000 wounded; among these casualties were more than 7,000 sailors, reflecting the toll taken by kamikaze [airplane suicide] attacks."

''If the claims by anti-Japanese protesters were justified, the whole modern world order would collapse,'' Takara of the University of the Ryukyus said. ''They have no legitimate argument. And most of all, unlike Tibetans and people in the Hsinchiang Uighur Autonomous Region, we Okinawans have never asserted our independence from Japan. It's really strange to see Chinese people discussing Okinawa independence by ignoring our own opinions.''

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based journalist. Besides Asia Times Online, he also writes for Jane's Defence Weekly as Tokyo correspondent.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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