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China gags debate over status of Japanese islands: scholar

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Chinese government has apparently put a stop to the suggestion that the status of the Ryukyu Islands between Japan and Taiwan remains undetermined, as claimed in a recent article in China's state-run People's Daily newspaper, a Taiwanese scholar said yesterday.

Quoting unidentified sources, Lim Chuan-tiong, an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica, said the Chinese leadership gave an instruction to cease discussion of the issue May 11.

According to Lim, the Chinese leadership was concerned that to question the sovereignty of the islands would irk residents there and could give rise to similar talk in foreign countries about the status of Tibet and Xinjiang, two Chinese regions where ethnic minorities have aspirations for greater autonomy or outright independence.

Lim, an expert in Sino-Japanese relations, made the remarks at a roundtable forum held in Taipei to discuss the status of the Ryukyu Islands and peace in the East China Sea. The island chain includes the Diaoyutai Islands — called the Senkaku Islands in Japanese — which are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Immediately after the People's Daily published on May 8 the article entitled “Revisiting the Ryukyu Islands,” many other media outlets in China joined the chorus and Luo Yuan, an outspoken general officer of the People's Liberation Army, claimed that the islands belong to China.

Lim criticized the People's Daily article for misjudging the opinions of the 1.5 million residents of the islands, which are part of the Japanese prefectures of Okinawa and Kagoshima. The Ryukyu Islands have a total area of 4,642 square kilometers.

According to a poll conducted in November 2007, up to 65 percent of the local residents oppose becoming independent, with 20.6 percent in favor, said Lim.

At the forum, Yashikatsu Matsushima, a professor of economics at Ryukoku University who favors Ryukyu independence, said the islands should become independent and de-militarized.

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Japanese scholar Yashikatsu Matsushima listens attentively during a roundtable forum in Taipei to discuss the status of the Ryukyu Islands and peace in the East China Sea, yesterday. The scholar favors Ryukyu independence. (CNA)

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