Tokyo protests over Okinawa 'review'

Beijing rejects protest, says China's foreign ministry

TOKYO has protested to Beijing over an article in a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) newspaper that suggested that China has sovereignty over Japan's Okinawa island.

The People's Daily article, written by two scholars from a top state-run think-tank and published on Wednesday, calls for a review of Japan's sovereignty over Okinawa, the main island in the former Ryukyu kingdom.

The Ryukyu kingdom was a vassal state to China during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Besides asserting that China, following its defeat by Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War, was unable to stop Japan from robbing it of the Ryukyus at the signing of the April 1895 Shimonoseki Treaty, the article also reiterates China's claim to the Diaoyu islands (Senkaku to the Japanese).

Relations between the two countries have cooled over the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute. In recent months, China has piled pressure on Japan by frequently sending surveillance vessels into the waters surrounding the islands.

The government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, yesterday said the Japanese embassy in Beijing had lodged a strong protest with the Chinese foreign ministry over the article on the same day that it appeared.

"A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson had also said that Chinese scholars have long been interested in the history of Okinawa and the Ryukyus," said Mr Suga, explaining the reason for the protest.

"If the article represents the Chinese government's position, Japan resolutely cannot accept it," he said, having earlier called its opinion "absurd".

Beijing has rejected the protest. "China does not accept Japan's representations or protests," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a regular news briefing yesterday.

A Japanese expert said the People's Daily article reflects yet another attempt by China to deflect mounting public discontent against the CCP towards Japan by stoking anti-Japanese sentiment.

"Unhappiness among the Chinese people with the CCP is reaching breaking point. There is a limit to what the government can do to control it. So it resorts to using Japan as a sacrificial lamb, turning the people's anger towards Japan," said Professor Koichi Sato of J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo.

"The call for the return of the Ryukyus underlines the rise of China's superpower mentality," Prof Sato added.

In Beijing, Renmin University international affairs expert Jin Canrong said the article may reflect China's increasing frustration over the Senkaku/Diaoyu impasse. "These two scholars are known to espouse such views but have not been allowed to express them. Letting them do so this time in state media is a deliberate move," he added.

"The government is likely trying to exert pressure on Japan by signalling its 'openness' in challenging Japan's ownership of Okinawa."

But he thinks China is unlikely to make an official claim on Okinawa and that such calls would amount to nothing.

Peking University analyst Zhu Feng agrees, saying there is little basis in international law for China to make such a claim now, having missed the opportunity to do so immediately after World War II.

The People's Daily article is the second instance in weeks of Chinese scholars questioning Japan's sovereignty over Okinawa. During last September's anti-Japanese protests in Chinese cities over Japan's nationalisation of the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, some Chinese demonstrators were seen holding banners claiming Okinawa as Chinese territory.