Tue, Jun 18, 2013 - Page 8 News List

‘Ryukus issue’ tripping up China

By John Lim 林泉忠

It is to avoid this difficult dilemma that an embarrassed Beijing is forced to state that its position has not changed and that there is no sovereignty dispute between China and Japan over Okinawa.

In other words, the People’s Daily article, which espouses a view on a sensitive diplomatic issue that is at odds with the government’s position, was rashly published without being backed up by careful study, and this forced the government to make its position clear. This has now circumscribed its ability to deal with and control the Ryukyus issue, since without Beijing’s official endorsement, revisiting the Ryukyus issue will of course not make Japan compromise on the Diaoyutais issue.

The third blind spot is the mistaken interpretation that the Ryukyuan population is anti-Japanese and pro-Chinese and would welcome a Chinese reconsideration of its position on the Ryukyus issue. I have taught at a Ryukyuan university and I have spent several years studying Ryukyuan identity structure, experiencing the local population’s complex emotions toward Japan and China.

In the past, China and the Ryukyus were very close, and Chinese culture became an integral part of Ryukyuan culture, an influence that remains to this day. However, the Ryukyuans’ feeling of proximity to China is historic and cultural, rather than realistic and pragmatic. The fact is that the local population has not had any positive feelings toward China in recent years.

The day after the publication of the People’s Daily article, the Okinawan government announced an opinion poll showing that almost 90 percent of respondents had a negative impression of China, while more than 70 percent had a positive view of Taiwan.

The Ryukyus used to be a semi-independent kingdom that paid tribute to first China and then also to Japan. Following Japan’s Meiji Restoration, the Ryukyus were annexed in 1879 and their name was changed to Okinawa Prefecture. Qing Dynasty China initiated negotiations with Japan, but in the end, these talks came to naught, and the issue was said to be “unresolved.” After World War II, the islands were administered by the US, and the Treaty of Peace with Japan — also known as the San Francisco Peace Treaty — that came into effect in 1952 implicitly recognized Japan’s sovereignty over the Ryukyus. In 1972, the US transferred the administration of both the Ryukyus and the Diaoyutais to Japan.

Based on the historical relationship between China and the Ryukyus, as well as the spirit of the Cairo and Potsdam declarations, according to which talks between China, the US and the UK are required to make such decisions, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested the US’ arbitrary decision to “return” the Ryukyus to Japan without first obtaining the Republic of China’s (ROC) approval. This remains the government’s position to this day, and it still refuses to use the name “Okinawa,” which is a very different position from China’s recognition of the return of the Ryukyus to Japan.

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