Riling Tokyo over Ryukyu Islands may drive Japan further right

By Zhu Zhangping Source:Global Times Published: 2013-5-16 1:03:01

A commentary in People's Daily on May 8 questioning Japan's sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands, which most prominently include Okinawa, only two days after the US Pentagon report criticized China's Diaoyu Islands stance, expresses Chinese academics' dissatisfaction with the biased US stance on the disputed islands and the Japanese politicians' worrying words and actions concerning Japan's wartime history

One of the two authors explained that if Japan insists that Diaoyu Islands are part of the Ryukyu Islands, then the Diaoyu Islands can be proved not to be Japan's if Japan's sovereignty over Ryukyu is put in question.

The argument is mainly that the Ryukyu Kingdom was a vassal state of China since 1372 before it was seized by Japan in 1879. They argue that it resumed independence after the surrender of Japan in 1945, and that in 1971, the US transferred jurisdiction rather than sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands to Japan.

It's all right for Chinese academics to continue the debate on the Ryukyu sovereignty issue to push Japan to reflect on its denial of the existence of the Diaoyu Islands dispute.

However, Chinese diplomats had better keep away from using the Ryukyu sovereignty issue to resolve the Diaoyu dispute. The article has already been widely misinterpreted as China laying claim to the Ryukyu Islands.

Such interpretations may have more negative impact than expected. In the past years with the "pivot to Asia" strategy, the US has managed to drive wedges between China and some of its neighbors by making use of their territorial disputes.

The emphasis on the Ryukyu Kingdom as once being China's vassal state may enhance worries of some other countries which were also ancient China's vassal states at some point under the tributary system. Thus it may boost the sense of a threat from China among some of China's neighboring countries.

More importantly, using the Ryukyu sovereignty issue to resolve the Diaoyu dispute will make the latter more complicated, and help the Japanese right-wingers to gain more support in domestic politics market.

The 1972 China-Japan Joint Communiqué stipulates that "the Government of Japan recognizes the Government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China," and "the Government of the People's Republic of China reiterates that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the People's Republic of China."

Japanese government's admittance that Taiwan is part of China laid the basis for China and Japan's normalization of diplomatic relations.

And the Japanese government's one-China stance remains unchanged, despite some Japanese right-wingers' close bond with Taiwanese "independence" activists, especially after Japanese nationalism revived in Japan in the 1990s.

Chinese government should not give any excuse for Japanese government to shake the basis of Sino-Japanese ties.

Currently Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe enjoys a support rate of over 70 percent. However, a majority of ordinary Japanese people support him only because "Abeconomics" props up Japan's economy for the time being.

Japanese society is divided on Abe's hawkish speeches about invasion history and his dream of "turning Japan into a normal state."

According to a recent Asahi Shimbun survey, about 54 percent of voters are opposed to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's proposal to ease the requirement for initiating constitutional revisions, with a similar number opposed to amending the war-renouncing Article 9.

China's tit-for-tat strategy is absolutely correct as the Japanese politicians are worryingly turning to right as indicated in visits to the Yasukuni Shrine and Abe's hawkish postures. But if Chinese officials openly support Ryukyuan independence, it might push more middle voters to Abe. And once Abe and his LDP win the Upper House election in July, Abe will undoubtedly further promote constitution revision.

What's more important for China now is to cooperate with South Korea, which was Japan's colony from 1910 to 1945 and is equally worried about Japan's ongoing turn to the right. It is also important for China to gain more international support to press the Abe administration to refrain from its right-wing posturing.

China needs to stand together with South Korea to convince the US that a reviving militarist Japan will finally harm the US interests in the region and push Washington to keep Japan in check.

The author is an independent observer on international affairs.

Posted in: Viewpoint

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