China questions Okinawa ownership


Two scholars from an official Chinese research center suggested re-examining the ownership of the Japanese island chain that includes Okinawa, adding to tensions over the Senkaku territorial dispute.

Agreements reached between the Allies during World War II mean the ownership of the Ryukyu Islands may be in question, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researchers said in a commentary published Wednesday in the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main newspaper. They said Japan’s loss in the war nullified an 1895 treaty in which China ceded territory to Japan.

“It may be time to revisit the unresolved historical issue of the Ryukyu Islands,” Zhang Haipeng and Li Guoqiang wrote in the commentary.

A move to reconsider ownership of the Ryukyus would add to strains as China and Japan each assert their claims over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The central government’s decision last year to purchase three of the islets sparked protests across China.

Tensions were compounded last month when Diet members, including Cabinet ministers, visited Yasukuni Shrine, which is viewed as a symbol of wartime aggression, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to protect the Senkaku Islands by force.

“The fact that this view is carried by the People’s Daily signals that Beijing may be upping the ante,” Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, wrote in an email. “This is psychological warfare and a classic Chinese negotiation tactic — trying to intimidate the opponent by raising the stakes.”

Okinawa, the largest island in the Ryukyu chain, hosts several U.S. military installations. The scholars’ comments came in an article about China’s claim to the Senkaku Islands.

The Ryukyus unquestionably belong to Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday. The archipelago has a population of about 1.5 million people and its northernmost point sits 30 km from Kyushu.

“It is clear that in terms of history and internationally, it is our nation’s territory,” Suga said at a briefing. “It’s indisputable. If that is being discussed in China, there is absolutely no basis for it.”

China’s imports from Japan plunged 14 percent in the month following the September protests over the Senkaku Islands, according to Chinese customs figures.

The scholars aren’t necessarily saying that the Ryukyus belong to China, said Taylor Fravel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies China’s territorial claims. They are raising the possibility that Japan’s ownership could be disputed because the islands’ rulers in past centuries had tributary relations with imperial China, he said.

“These are perhaps the most serious scholars to date to make this insinuation,” Fravel said.

  • Magnificent

    If Japan looks backward,China has a lot of history to speak about. As Aso said, there never is a smooth relationship in 1500 year history between China and Japan. It is always Japan invaded China andit is time to smooth it out.

    • robakyo

      I think you have it bass-ackwards. It was China that attempted, unsuccessfully, to invade and conquer Japan. This occurred more than once.

      Japan was never a unified nation until the very recent past. During the 20th century however, they did invade and occupy parts of China.

      • Martin de Mars

        reminder me, how did China try to invade Japan and when? Oops, unless you think Mongols are Chinese.

      • Magnificent

        Honestly, for the most part of history,
        Japan and China have been friendly each other.

        I am upset by Aso’s unreasonable
        distorted view of the history and so far the Japanese govt hasn’t
        denounced it.

        Indeed, there were two times that there
        were attempts to invade Japan, but at that time, China herself was
        victim of the war. Well, you can blame it for China because China is
        big enough to take the blame.

        1972, when Japan and China renormalized
        the relationship, China renounced war reparation that could bankrupt
        Japan overnight. But Japan is ungrateful for that. Japan destroyed
        all principles written in the peace and friendship treaty with China.

        Japan not only provided patrol ship to
        Philippine to against China, Japan also provides patrol ships to
        Vietnam to against China. Wherever Japan goes, she talks about China
        with bad mouth. Japan invoked MDT with US to threat China, Japan
        begged EU to embargo China, Japan asked France to not trade with

        Everything Japan does, she breaks
        promises. No friendship anymore.

        I think the foundation for the renounce
        of war reparation is destroyed.

        If Japan wants to open old wounds,
        there are a lot of them.

      • TheEddmon .

        You refer to the Mongolians I think. They ruled parts of china for a while. They have their own issues with China too.

      • jaw111

        Mongol Empire invaded Japan twice, not China. China doesn’t even want anything to do with Japan, it’s useless territory to conquer.

        However, ever since Nobunga or Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s time of Dream of conquering China, Japan has always tried to take over China when it was weak.

        It will be another 500 years before Japan ever dreams of expanding into Asian mainland again after the asswhupping it got in WW2.

      • China has never, in their entire history tried to invade japan.

        it was the japanese that tried to invade korea (and ultimately leading to china) during the ming dynasty but was stopped by ming dynasty’s army.

  • akanosenritu

    China of course does not seriously claim its ownership over the Ryukyu islands in today’s situation, but I think there is a little possibility that China will do so in the future, considering its ambition to become the ruler of western Pacific.

    • Seriously – this expansionist rhetoric from China needs to be taken with a grain or two of salt.

      While I wish China well with its economic development and buildup of internal sustainable demand, it has massive problems to overcome.

      The Ryuku’s are a hollow nationalistic drum they beat from time to time. If you read the history of the place – they were clever and paid tribute to both Kingdoms – China and Japan.

      Estoppel totally precludes China from making and real claim on them unless it wants to back this up with military force, and fly in the face of international law.


      This is why Japan should try to have Okinawan feel closer to Japan, for example by improving their non-defense related economy. On the other hand I believe that Okinawans want to keep themselves well distanced from China and the Chinese in general either. China sees the “liberation” of Okinawa as an opportunity to free northern Asia from the American military power, but I have no doubt that once this is achieved they would also try to set up their naval bases there. What would be going to change for Okinawa then?

    • AmIJustAPessimistOrWhat?

      | “considering its ambition to become the ruler of western Pacific”

      Amazing really, the Chinese were within reach of becoming the “leader of the western Pacific” and perhaps much more. Now they want to become “ruler of the western Pacific”, and they are likely to end up with neither.

  • Eudaimonia

    This reminds me of people saying that Crete island of Greece should consider becoming indipendent.

    The reasons for these things are obvious if someone opens a map and has any clue about geopolitics, Crete and Okinawa are located in a very important place.

    Japan shouldn’t ignore these assertions but shouldn’t take the bait either. China is obviously in it for the very very long haul, they will very slowly try to chip away at Okinawa being Japanese.

  • Emophiliac

    Transfer Okinawa to Taiwan?

  • Masa Chekov

    Of course they are not asserting that Okinawa belongs to China. They’re trying to set the stage for making that assertion later.

    This is why the Senkaku dispute is so important to Japan. The Senkakus themselves are a bit of a cipher for the territorial disputes. The real issue is that China seems to feel that all of the land surrounding China (and some not nearby like the Spratlys) is Chinese. It’s imperialism in a different guise.

    Japan is wise to resist such territorial incrementalism.

    • jaw111

      Japan annexed Ryukyu islands, what do you mean China is imperialistsic. Hypocritical? Look at the historical facts.

    • $16493851

      You just made the argument for why Koreans want to resist Japanese claims to dodo-takashima. I wish Japanese Chinese Koreans could chill and understand each other.

    • $16493851

      isn’t this the argument Korea makes against Japan’s claim to a similar island dispute? resist Japan’s territorial incrementalism. maybe this logic only works one way.

  • Kelly farrel

    This is sad, if USA leave asian region – there sure, will be started real big fighting between China and Japan and many others countries – current peaceful situation is only staying because of invisible barriers founded after WW2, but even them are not so strong and not be forever. This confrontation only destabilizing whole region and not helping anyone.

    We only hope that mental stability of chinese leaders is in good state, but we have example from 40 years ago in 1970’s when chinese ruling leaders agree to get into military confrontation with USSR about one very small island “Damansky” – chinese leaders was mad because they agree to attack the nuclear neighbor and today when many secret documents now open we know that in that Soviet-China conflict USSR planned a plan B with nuclear protection from China – the last one is using the Nixon’s support of USA, so we was in real situation of potential Third World War with nuclear disaster – and all about some very little useless island on the river which chinese communists rulers desire to get – they was risking whole world about that stupid island…this is example of stupidity or madness of humanity…

  • leconfidant

    Well there you go. Now we know.
    New thing every day, eh?
    I expect Okinawans will be very excited about this sudden realisation.

  • I couldn’t help laughing out loud when I read this headline. “What next!” I thought.

    Regardless of what a couple scholars have to say about Okinawa, or what the Chinese and Japanese governments have to say about “territory,” something very important thing is missing from this story, though I imagine the scholars in question must be addressing it to some degree in their article.


    The Ryûkyû Kindom, which included Okinawa, was independent from the 15th to 19th centuries. True, it did have close ties with China, and Japan only annexed (some prefer the word colonized) it in the 1870s, but, frankly speaking, it should be up to neither China nor Japan to say who Okinawa belongs to.

    Many Ryûkyûans view themselves as ethnically different from mainland Japanese. This has to do much with their distinct cultural heritage, which they are very proud of. Some groups in the Ryûkyûs continue to voice desire to be returned to full independence. Medoruma Shun, the first Okinawan writer to receive the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, draws attention to issues that have long been important to his people but ignored by others.

    The Chinese–and Japanese–have no right to question Okinawa’s ownership. This matter should be up to Ryûkyûans and no one else.


    • Aroon

      Come on Matt! Some confederates still claim CSA, should we just giveup some of our southern states for them. Give me a break!

  • Glen Douglas Brügge

    China seems to be forgetting that the US has virtually all of its military installations located on Okinawa. That being said, their rhetoric is rather pointless because the US will certainly not allow control to cede to China – even if, in an alternate universe, Japan did give up the islands. It’s no different than their Taiwan saber rattling – war with the U.S. and her allies would be the only outcome of China making a move in either case. Just ignore them.

  • Ron NJ

    The only sensible option is, obviously, to return Okinawa to American control.

  • Darth Vader

    China claiming Okinawa? That’s something. Wait SHAZAM!! let’s just imagine Okinawa became Chinese territory. What’s going to happen to all those US military bases? Will China keep them or tell the US military to move everything to other places in Japan like Yokosuka or perhaps to Guam, Saipan?

  • Cam

    I think Japan should claim the whole of eastern China as it’s own because it did occupy it with the cooperation of the Chinese. If Japan hadn’t been defeated by the US, it would still be there.

  • 151E

    The silly season is upon us! First Abe equivocates over whether Japan fought a war of aggression – claiming that aggression is a vague term with no agreed meaning among scholars, and which anyway all depends on one’s point of view (that is to say, which end of the bayonet you happen to find yourself on). Now China’s foreign ministry has indirectly suggested that sovereignty over Okinawa is similarly an open question.

    But nowhere within the treaty of Shimonseki – the nullification of which the article alludes to as the legal basis for challenging Japanese sovereignty – is there any mention of Okinawa or the Ryukyu islands, so it’s hard to take these assertions too seriously. However, in the very first article of the same treaty, China acknowledges Korean independence and autonomy. Will China now challenge these claims too? Unlikely. Most everyone agrees they’re just upping the ante in the war of rhetoric over the Senkakus, about which there can be some legitimate debate. I’ll be curious to see how this farce plays out over the summer.

  • Kyle

    Okinawa is not an issue. If the Okinawa Islands want independence the citizens there should voice their intentions. The last poll seemed to indicate about 55-60% of Okinawans favored being part of Japan. About 40% supported independence.

    Concerning the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute this needs to be brought before the International Court of Justice.

  • Singh

    I suggest that the same countries, namely US, Japan, EU which invested in china’s industrialization to make easy money for themselves, should now pull out their investment and move it to countries that will be on their side v/s china (India, vietnam etc.) and cut trade drastically with china before it gets more of their money (china has a favourable trade imbalance with almost everyone) – before it is too late! China’s rise must be stopped – now! An authoritarian, communist country is robbing (greed driven) democracies in broad daylight and will soon become the most powerful in the world – the process has already begun. China will prove to the world that it’s system of government, authoritariasm+communism+economics can win over democracy. The world’s democracies must not let this happen! Action is needed – now!

  • Ken5745

    For those who study history they would know that the earliest records of the Ryukyu islands can be found in the Book of Sui, written in AD621 to record the history of the Sui Dynasty (AD581-617).

    The Ryukyus used to be a tributary state of China. The name Ryukyu, in fact, originates from the Mandarin word ‘Liuqiu’, also spelt ‘Liuchiu’ (pronounced LewChew), a name the Chinese gave to the islands.

    Ryukyu historical records showed that from 1383 onwards, its kings derived their mandate to rule the islands from the Chinese emperor. It was a tributary state of China.

    This continued for over 2 centuries until the invasion of the Ryukyu islands by the Shimazu clan of Satsuma in April 1609. In the 17th century, the kingdom paid tributes to both China and Japan.

    In 1879 Japan annexed the islands and they were named the Okinawa prefecture by the Meiji govt.

    The monarchy in Shuri was abolished. The deposed king Shō Tai (1843–1901) was forced to relocate to Tokyo. In compensation, he was made a marquis in the Meiji system of peerage.

    Hostility against mainland Japan increased in the Ryukyus immediately after its annexation by Japan and ever since there is always an undercurrent of dissatisfaction for the Ryukyuans being treated as second class citizens.

    In the Cairo Declaration of 1943, it said that Japan shall be “expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed.”

    In the 1945 Potsdam Declaration “Paragraph 8 stated: “The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.”

    In 1946, General MacArthur issued a statement limiting Japanese territories to the four major islands and about 1,000 small islands situated north of 30 deg latitude.

    Since the Ryukyus, and also Diaoyu islands lie south of 30 deg latitude, they are, legally speaking, no longer Japanese territory.

    In the Japanese Surrender Instrument, Japan pledged to carry out the Potsdam Declaration in good faith.

    I think there should be a referendum to see if the people of the Ryukyus want independence and to bring back the Monarchy.

    No where is China claiming the Ryukyus as Chinese territory.

    • Masa Chekov

      “No where is China claiming the Ryukyus as Chinese territory.”

      Yet. It’s coming, and everyone knows it. No point in denying it.

  • Huan Tran

    What about Tibet and Uyghuristan (Xinjiang) ?. Those were once independent countries of the Tibetans and the Uyghurs, with their own government, their own armies, their own taxes, their own cultures, their own languages, separate from the Han Chinese, but were conquered and annexed by China. If China wants the islands back, China should give the Tibetans and the Uyghurs back their countries.

    • Cuphat Hu

      Don’t forget Hoang Sa and Truong Sa to Vietnam as bad as the lands China stole from Vietnam during 1986 invasion. China is a thief, a bully, and a punk.

  • Aroon

    Well, if that is the case then China belongs to cavemen 1000s of years back. Shouldn’t they handing over the land to some of those tribals?

  • stevelaudig

    As long as the issue of annexations is being discussed, the US’s unilateral annexation of the Hawaiian Islands raises serious questions. I am not familiar so much with the Ryukyus, was there a treaty between the Ryukyu government? There’s none for the Hawaiian Islands. There was an invasion, installation a government of foreigners, then an act of Congress. Under the US theory Congress has the power to simply ‘claim’ another country. A saying that B doesn’t own C is cleanly different from A saying that A owns C. C may ‘own itself’.

  • eagleeyezeke

    Well, the Okinawans are not ethnic Japanese. They consider themselves a colony of Japan. They are treated as second class citizens; however that does not mean that they wish to be second class citizens of China. If given the choice they’d accept Japan as the lesser of two evils.