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Ryukyu Islands / Lieou-Kieou / Loochow / Loo-Choo
Luchiu / Liu-Kiu / Riu-Kiu /

A bylined article published in the Communist Party's official newspaper "People's Daily" on 08 May 2013 called for the revisiting of the unsolved historical issue of the Ryukyu Islands, the largest of which is Okinawa. The fact that the article was signed by the authors, Zhang Haipeng and Li Guoqiang,academics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, indicated it was their personal opnion, not the official position of the Communist Part of China. The article provoked strong protests in Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tokyo "must voice its position to the world" by rejecting China's "inappropriate claim." The US Department of State expressed support for Japan's sovereignty over Okinawa.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said academics have long paid attention to the history of Liuqiu and Okinawa, adding that the matter has become prominent again due to Japan's provocative actions over the Diaoyu Islands issue and its infringement on China's territorial sovereignty. "China does not accept Japan's representations or protests." Japan claims sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands since it believes they were part of Ryukyu Islands.

Luo Yuan, writing in People's Daily Online on July 27, 2012, stated that "The Ryukyu Kingdom had always been an independent kingdom directly under the Chinese imperial government before it was seized by Japan in 1879. It resumed independence after the surrender of Japan in 1945. In 1971, the United States decided to transfer executive power rather than sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands to Japan, so it could maintain its military bases there. Unable to change the U.S. decision, inhabitants of the Ryukyu Islands could only gather and vow to expel Japanese aggressors. A referendum in March 2006 showed that 75 percent of the voters on the Ryukyu Islands wanted to gain independence and resume normal relations with China. Therefore, it is questionable whether the Ryukyu Islands belong to Japan."

Today's Okinawa Prefecture is a chain of 60 islands located far to the south of Kyushu. Nansei-shoto is the official name for the whole island chain in Japanese. Okinawa, once called Ryukyu, was an independent kingdom until the seventeenth century and, as such, developed its own distinct dialect and cultural traditions. After World War II and until 1972, Okinawa was controlled by the U.S. military. Tourism is the main industry. Because of the warm climate throughout the year, marine sports are popular. There are many beautiful islands in Okinawa, such as Ishigaki-jima and Miyakojima, known for their coral reefs.

Despite China's rapidly expanding economic and military activities, including in waters near Okinawa, Okinawans claim they do not share America's or Japan's sense of threat from China. While many mainland Japanese officials and influentials say they recognize China as a potential threat to regional security and stability, even most conservative Okinawans do not believe a Chinese threat to Japan (or elsewhere) necessarily means a threat to Okinawa. Many Okinawans identify with China culturally and believe China sees them as a separate people from the Japanese. Some also say Okinawa, over the centuries, has received better treatment from China than from Japan or the United States. These attitudes combine to produce an Okinawan perspective that is markedly different from that of mainland Japan, and which is a factor in local attitudes toward U.S. military bases in Okinawa.

In general, Okinawans perceive little potential threat from China; many note China and the Ryukyu Kingdom had peaceful relations for centuries prior to the 19th Century Meiji Restoration in Japan. To be sure, there are Okinawans who are as concerned about China's destabilizing possibilities as are many mainlanders, but this is not the prevailing view on the island. Okinawans were undisturbed, by Chinese incursions. Chinese fishing boats crossing the sea boundary did not affect Okinawan fisheries as Okinawans worked only in its inner seas. In December 2005 the University of the Ryukyus announced the results of a telephone survey of Okinawans, in which 40% of respondents, when asked how they identified themselves, said they were Okinawan. A smaller percentage said they were both Okinawan and Japanese (36%), and just over one in five identified themselves as Japanese (21%).

While many mainland Japanese are reportedly uncomfortable with the visits by the Prime Minister to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, if push comes to shove between China and Japan, opinion polls show that most side with Japan's right to do as it pleases. Most Okinawans probably side with China. Okinawans and Chinese held similar views of the visits because they shared the experience of having been "prisoners of war" of the Japanese. Local newspaper editorials have also pointed to the Yasukuni visits as unnecessary barriers to bilateral and regional cooperation that the Government of Japan could, and should, remove. Although an exaggeration, a Ryukyu Shimpo article reporting on the study of Okinawan identity concluded with a warning that Government of Japan policies, particularly as they related to bases and transformation, could influence Okinawans' opinions on whether to remain part of Japan.

Many Okinawans believe that China sees them differently, and more warmly, than it sees the rest of Japan. They point out that Taipei International Airport, when posting place names in Chinese characters, lists flights to/from "Ryukyu," not Okinawa. A May 2005 Ryukyu Shimpo report claimed that, because of Okinawa's history, it could become an intermediary peacefully linking China and Taiwan. By offering an independent, international contribution, Okinawa could renounce its title of "(strategic) keystone of the Pacific" and become a "keystone of goodwill." A June 2005 Ryukyu Shimpo opinion piece contrasted the hospitality the Chinese granted Okinawa Governor Inamine and his party when they visited Beijing with Beijing's snubbing of PM Koizumi. "The extreme attention provided Okinawa, with its deep historical connection to China, was conspicuous in its contrast. To look at it the other way around, it was an intense dig at the Government of Japan," commented the Shimpo.

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Page last modified: 06-06-2021 18:22:00 ZULU