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September 21, 2017

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China best halt at cliff of separatism

The questioning of Japanese sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, by Chinese scholars appears to reflect a new Beijing approach towards antagonistic foreign governments.

A May 8 commentary in the official People's Daily newspaper by two researchers at a top government think tank — the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences — asserted that the kingdom of the Ryukyu Islands was a Chinese vassal state during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and concluded: "It may be time to revisit the unresolved historical issue of the Ryukyu Islands."

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, asked if China accepts that "the Ryukyus and Okinawa are Japan's territory," responded evasively: "Academics have long paid attention to the history of the Ryukyus and Okinawa.

This was interpreted by some as lodging a Chinese claim to sovereignty. Actually, the goal is probably more limited. It is to weaken Japan's claim to the disputed Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyus.

Japan claims the Senkakus as part of the Ryukyu Islands and, by arguing that the Ryukyus themselves don't belong to Japan, China hopes to show that the Senkakus, by definition, also do not belong to Japan.

But the longer term Chinese threat is to support a secessionist movement in Japan.

On May 10, an article in the Global Times, which is affiliated to the People's Daily, asserted that the Ryukyu issue offered leverage to China.

If Japan chooses to be antagonistic, it said, China can take a number of steps, culminating with "fostering forces in Okinawa that seek the restoration of the independence of the Ryukyu Chain ... China should impose threats on the country's integrity."

Interestingly, the threat to support secessionist forces in Japan comes in the wake of a similar threat to the United Kingdom, apparently in retaliation for Prime Minister David Cameron's meeting with the Dalai Lama a year ago.

In January, the Global Times declared in an editorial: "China has more leverage than Britain has in their bilateral relations. China cultivating more contacts with separatists in North Ireland and Scotland would make London quite uncomfortable."

On May 10, new Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao, on his first overseas trip, pledged "full support" for "Argentine sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands." Argentina fought a war with Britain over the islands in 1982, which calls them the Falklands.

Ironically, perhaps, Britain in 2008 gave up its traditional position, which acknowledged only Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, and acknowledged that Tibet was an integral part of China.

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