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Beijing Questions Okinawa Sovereignty

HRP China

Still from Happiness Realization Party video

SNA (Tokyo) — The new regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping is to be congratulated for accomplishing the remarkable feat of making the rightwing lunatic fringe of Japanese politics look positively wise and prescient this week. Ever since large-scale anti-Chinese protests began to appear on the streets of Japan in the autumn of 2010, one of their staple claims was that Beijing had its longing eyes focused on the uninhabited Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands only as a first step toward encroaching on well-inhabited Okinawa, then Kyushu, then all of Japan.

Since these same protesters are either convinced that NHK is already run by Chinese spies or, in the case of the Happiness Realization Party, that their leader communes with the spirits of dead European philosophers and space aliens, it wasn’t too difficult to dismiss them as paranoiacs.

But, no, someone in the Chinese government decided it would be a bright idea to put more pressure on Japan over the disputed Senkaku-Diaoyu islets by “upping the ante” and hinting that Beijing could ultimately claim all of the Ryukyu Islands.

This move was manifest in two ways. First, a pair of scholars, Zhang Haipeng and Li Guoqiang of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the nation’s leading state-run thinktank, were allowed to publish in the semi-official People’s Daily an essay arguing that Japan’s claim to sovereignty over Okinawa could be challenged on legal grounds; and, second, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, when asked by journalists about this unusual article, refused to clearly confirm that Okinawa was part of Japan.

It’s not difficult to infer the pattern of thinking of the Chinese officials who dreamt this one up. They probably believe that they are sending a subtle warning to Japan that it had better deal with the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands issue more flexibly because, after all, there is a lot more that Japan could ultimately lose in the East China Sea than a few wild goats. Additionally, these Chinese officials probably think they are cleverly playing on tensions between Tokyo and Naha over US military bases and other historical issues.

Well, whomever these Chinese officials are who believe that Beijing has something to gain by questioning Japan’s sovereignty over Okinawa, they are totally out of touch with political reality. This sort of thuggish approach to diplomacy will result only in a more united front determined to resist Chinese expansion. Specifically, it will stiffen Japanese public sentiment, tighten the US-Japan Alliance, and disappoint those in Okinawa who currently feel no particular enmity toward Beijing.

In short, it will produce exactly the opposite result from what the claim was supposed to achieve. Beijing would be well advised to carefully rethink its approach to these matters.