Beijing Says Okinawa May Belong to China

Will the claim persuade Japan to cede less important territory to China?

China’s main newspaper said on Wednesday that Beijing is unsure of Japan’s sovereignty over the island of Okinawa—the home of key U.S. military bases.

A long-winded article in the People’s Daily—the mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist Party—said that Beijing may rightfully own the Ryukyu island chain, which includes Okinawa. The island is home to 1.3 million people, who are much more closely related to Japan than to China in terms of both ethnicity and linguistics. The Ryukyus chain was a sort of vassal state of China before Japan annexed it in 1879, and now the Chinese say it should return to them based on post-World War ii measures requiring Japan to return territories that it took from Beijing.

“Hanging in the balance of history, the unresolved problem of the Ryukyus has finally arrived at the time for reconsideration,” the article said.

The article also reiterated China’s historical claims over a group of small, uninhabited islets in the East China Sea called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. In recent months, Beijing has moved beyond the long simmering war of words over these islets by regularly sending ships into the waters around the Japan-controlled territory. This escalation has spawned fears throughout the region of armed conflict.

China’s question about the sovereignty of Okinawa is likely aimed at raising the stakes in the Senkaku/Diaoyu argument. It could pressure Japan to make concessions over the small islands, in hopes that Beijing will not try to wrest the much more vital Ryukyu Islands from Tokyo’s control. If Japan gives the Senkakus to Beijing, it could accelerate the shift in the global balance of power by showing the world that the U.S. is an unreliable and war-weary ally, and that China is a power to fear.

To understand the significance of this shift, read Russia and China in Prophecy.