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
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
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
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.