OKINAWA GOVERNOR’S INGRATIATING APPROACH TO CHINA
On April 18, Governor Denny Tamaki of Okinawa, Japan’ southernmost prefecture in the East China Sea, reportedly asked Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua to “utilize” his prefecture as a gateway to Japan for China’s ambitious “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) cross-continental infrastructure development initiative.
The initiative constitutes Beijing’s grand strategy for world hegemony. Its no-holds-barred modus operandi as it forges ahead with OBOR has attracted increasing international criticism and suspicion, with both the US and Japanese governments sharing a strong wariness.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently stated that Japan would cooperate with the project on certain conditions—1) procurement must be transparent and fair; 2) infrastructure must be open to use for all; 3) projects must be economically viable and financed by debt that can be repaid; and, 4) the soundness of the debtor nations’ finances must be safeguarded.
If these conditions are met, there would be no reason for Japanese corporations not to participate. In reality, however, it will be virtually impossible for China to satisfy them.
Tamaki’s direct appeal to a Chinese leader runs counter to the China diplomacy of the Japanese government, which has remained cautious about OBOR from the outset, setting tough conditions for possibly agreeing to cooperate going forward.
Clearly, this was an outrageous thing for a governor to do. The national papers somehow failed to report it, but it was taken up by two local dailies in Okinawa—the Yaeyama Nippo and the Ryukyu Shinpo––nine days later, on April 27, when Tamaki broke the news during his regular news conference.
According to the two dailies, Tamaki visited China April 16-19 as a member of a delegation of the Association for the Promotion of International Trade, a pro-China body headed by Yohei Kono, former deputy prime minister in the liberal Murayama cabinet (1994-95). Tamaki reportedly asked Hu to “utilize Okinawa as a doorway to Japan under the OBOR initiative” during a talk with him. Hu allegedly “consented” instantly.
Request for Xi’s Visit to Okinawa
When a reporter pointed to the risks of nations unable to repay huge loans having their ports and land wrested away by China, Tamaki reportedly “gave a positive response,” explaining that “I will be collecting pertinent intelligence as I explore how Okinawa Prefecture can get involved in OBOR to its advantage.” (The Ryukyu Shinpo)
Asked how he viewed the increasingly unstable international security environment and China’s relentless military buildup, Tamaki was further quoted as saying: “It will be beneficial to deepen overall relations among nations through active international exchanges,” announcing that he had asked Hu to relay his request that Xi Jinping visit Okinawa. (The Yaeyama Nippo)
Tamaki’s remarks make me wonder whether he really knows what he is talking about. First and foremost, how does he define his role as governor of Okinawa Prefecture? Clearly, he is just a local governor unauthorized to conduct foreign affairs for the government. He not only strayed beyond the confines of his gubernatorial authority when he appealed to the Chinese side to incorporate Okinawa into OBOR but ran contrary to the foreign policy of the Japanese government.
With China pursuing a dangerous geopolitical power game under the OBOR banner, Tamaki should, as the governor of Okinawa, have a clear sense of the threat his island prefecture faces from China. Sadly, however, one never senses such an awareness on Tamaki’s part.
On May 2, the US Department of Defense issued its annual report to Congress on China entitled “2019 Military and Security Developments in China,” sounding the alarm against the dangers lurking in OBOR.
Of particular interest to Japan in the report is an in-depth analysis of China’s strategy against Taiwan. Defining the Taiwan issue as critical to the strategy of the People’s Liberation Army, the report explains in great detail how the PLA has steadily pursued a military buildup preparing to resort to force if necessary while advocating for “peaceful reunification.”
The report lists the following military actions China could take against Taiwan in the event of a conflict: 1) blockades of maritime and air traffic; 2) cyber attacks and infiltration operations to degrade the Taiwan population’s confidence in their leadership; 3) limited precision air attacks against military bases and national political infrastructure; and, 4) an invasion of Taiwan.
Xi Jinping has not ruled out military action against Taiwan, and many military strategists around the world feel that China will move toward reuniting with Taiwan through military means at some point. If Taiwan falls under China’s control, the next target would most likely be Okinawa. That is why the governor of that prefecture, of all the political leaders in Japan, must particularly be wary of what OBOR would bring about.
Military might is not China’s only means to take control of Taiwan, or Okinawa for that matter. As the DOD report points out, cyber capabilities, intelligence, and economic power hold the key to 21st century wars. Through OBOR, China ruthlessly aims at depriving developing nations of their resources, including land, firmly binding them hand and foot with enticingly generous loans ostensibly to enrich their infrastructure.
The DOD report delivers a clear message about the military advantages that investments related to OBOR can create for China. For instance, it notes: “Some OBOR investments could create potential military advantages for China, should China require access to selected foreign ports to pre-position the necessary logistics support to sustain naval deployments in waters as distant as the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Atlantic Ocean to protect its growing interests.” This automatically leads to China building the foundation for world hegemony.
I believe we have come across not a few cases of Chinese exploitation across the globe through OBOR before being warned by the DOD report. A typical example is the Republic of Djibouti where China built its first military base overseas.
Whole Situation Out of the Ordinary
Djibouti is a tiny republic on the northeast coast of Africa commanding a panoramic view of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. In addition to China, the US, France, and Italy have also built military bases there, with 110 members of the Japan Self Defense Forces manning a small bridgehead. But the Chinese military base there is totally different from any of these other foreign bases.
While these four bases encircle Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, the Chinese have built a marine base of their own near the beach quite a distance away.
According to Vice Foreign Minister Masahisa Sato, who visited Djibouti on a two-day inspection mission in November 2019, the Chinese base is expansive, reminding one of an impregnable fortress.
Sato further explained that the base is adjacent to a Chinese-funded modern port frequented by foreign ships, including Chinese warships. What is noteworthy is that the Chinese have laid a railway track in this port which stretches into neighboring Ethiopia—a perfect example of China’s OBOR initiative and its military strategy complementing each other.
What surprises one even more is Djibouti’s $US 3.5 billion free trade zone and distribution center—the largest of its kind that China has built in Africa. How much of a financial burden the Chinese loans must have been on Djibouti is obvious from the simple fact that its GDP barely stood at $US 2 billion in 2018. This is what China’s debt diplomacy is all about.
In December 2017, Sri Lanka was compelled to hand over the Chinese-financed strategic port of Hambantota to Beijing on a 99-year lease after failing to pay off its US$1.4 billion debt. Djibouti may have to follow the same fate.
Considering these developments, it was utterly foolish of Tamaki to ask China to make Okinawa an OBOR hub. While demanding the US and Japanese governments review the US-Japan Security Treaty and opposing a relocation of the Futenma US Marine Air Base, Tamaki has remained incredibly unconcerned about China’s unfathomable military and economic menace to Japan, not just Okinawa.
China, which defines the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea as one of its core interests, has regularly deployed armed patrol boats into Japanese territorial waters around the uninhabited islands. But I have never heard of Tamaki protesting to the Chinese government against such violations.
The Japanese media, national as well as local dailies in Okinawa, have yet to criticize Tamaki for his incredibly shallow national security awareness. For the politician in charge of Okinawa, to which the Senkakus belong, Tamaki’s behavior is irresponsible, and he needs to be called out on that. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 851 in the May 16, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)