Diaoyu Islands

Chinese nationals' claims to Okinawa 'an abuse of history'

Commentators ridicule Chinese nationalists who say far more than Diaoyus is open to claim, including most of Japanese prefecture

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2012, 4:39am


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China’s potential claim to most of the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, underscored by slogans at anti-Japan protests, has been angrily dismissed in Japan.

“This is just another example of China’s political use of history, and that is something they are very good at even if the historical facts do not stand up to careful examination,” said Go Ito, a professor of international relations at Meiji University.

“There were close ties between the Ryukyu kingdom and China from the 15th century, but this claim is just ridiculous,” he added, pointing out that Okinawa became a prefecture of Japan in 1879.

“If China is using history to claim these islands as its sovereign territory, then what is there to stop Italy similarly laying claim to most of Europe because the Romans once controlled it?”

The two Asian powers are already at loggerheads over a set of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, known as the Diaoyus in China and the Senkakus in Japan. But the most aggressive Chinese nationalists say far more is open to claim, including the island of Okinawa, home to 1.3 million people and major US military bases.

The biggest of the Ryukyu Islands, which stretch for about 1,000 kilometres from Japan’s mainland almost to Taiwan, Okinawa was the centre of the Ryukyuan kingdom, which pledged fealty to both Chinese emperors and Japanese feudal lords.

For hundreds of years it paid tribute to China’s Ming and Qing dynasties, until it was absorbed by Japan in 1879. Some Chinese, however, see historical and cultural ties as a basis for sovereignty and dismiss Japan’s possession of the islands as a legacy of aggressive expansionism.

Ito warned that China’s claims on the territories of other nearby nations were likely to backfire and lead to the emergence of an anti-Chinese alliance in Asia and the Pacific.

“Every other country in the region has been strongly critical of China on the issues of maritime security and territorial issues,” he said. “It is clear that Beijing is concerned about its energy security, and that is understandable, but it is attempting to solve that problem by grabbing other countries’ territory and claiming that ancient maps prove that Chinese people once lived there.

“That’s an illogical approach to the problem – China should buy its energy, just like any other nation – but I do believe that Beijing needs to start thinking about how it is perceived around the world.”

In recent anti-Japan protests in China, some demonstrators carried signs reading: “Retake Ryukyu” and “Take back Okinawa”.

The central government has not made such claims, but state media have carried articles and commentaries questioning Japan’s authority.

Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University, said Chinese claims to the Okinawa islands were not surprising because Beijing had never conceded they were Japanese territory.

The discovery of documents in Beijing that claim to prove the islands are Chinese was “not at all shocking to me”, Shimada said.

“After laying claim to the Senkaku islands, it was inevitable that they would try to up the ante,” he said. “I just hope that other governments in the region wake up and realise that this is part of a far wider Chinese strategy.

“The reason why the Chinese government has taught generations of children anti-Japanese history and is encouraging this anti-Japanese campaign today is to divert discontent among its own people to another target.”

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse