XI JINPING HAS ORDERED COMMENCEMENT OF BATTLE TO TAKE OVER OKINAWA
A survey conducted earlier this month on public perceptions of US military bases in Okinawa Prefecture has produced intriguing results, reflecting a significant change in attitudes toward military security among younger Okinawans. The poll was taken by Professor Hiroyuki Kumamoto, a sociologist at Meisei University, Tokyo.
The first question was: “Do you agree it is unfair that Okinawa has a heavy concentration of US military facilities?” (Around 70% of all US military facilities in Japan are in Okinawa.) About 82% of respondents aged 65 or older answered “I strongly agree” or “I agree,” while only 54% answered similarly in the 18-34 age group.
Asked if they “agree that opposition to the bases is meaningless because the national government has the ultimate power to determine national defense policy,” 24% in the older age group replied “I strongly agree” or “I agree,” while 59% replied “I strongly disagree” or “I disagree.” By contrast, 55% in the younger group replied “I strongly disagree” or “I disagree,” with 24% replying “I strongly agree” or “I agree”.
What the survey results, released on June 5, show is that the older the respondents, the stronger the tendency to view the heavy concentration of US bases in Okinawa as unfair and anti-base activities as meaningful. Meanwhile, the younger respondents feel a lesser sense of unfairness about the existence of the bases and are more inclined to regard anti-base campaigns as meaningless.
The liberal Ryukyu Shinpo reported on the gap of views on the bases between the two age groups in a June 6 article headlined “Young Okinawans Resigned to Living with US Bases.” If the daily’s editors believe Okinawa’s youths are resigned to accepting the bases and casting a cold eye on the anti-base movement because they feel they are powerless, let me stress that they are very wrong. Not only that. I believe the editors’ perception that this change of posture on the part of younger Okinawans toward the US bases is due to simple resignation is extremely unfair.
An impressive number of Okinawa’s youths no longer read the leftwing dailies they used to, including the Okinawa Times. Obtaining pertinent information via social media on what is going on at home and abroad, younger Okinawans are well aware that today’s reality is far from how the liberal local dailies purport it to be. They are also a new generation that strongly feels the growing threat from China and shares a common sense of danger that without Japan safeguarding its security under a solid alliance with the US, not only the Senkaku Islands but Okinawa’s main Island itself could be taken over by China. That makes these young people entirely different from the older generation, who only read those dailies, in perceiving the role played by the US bases and the defense policy of the Japanese government.
What I Saw at JSDF Bases in Okinawa’s Ishigaki and Yonaguni Islands
It goes without saying that the Ryukyu Shinpo has long been a left-leaning publication, but a column by Satoko Norimatsu it ran on the same day as the survey results made me realize once again how far to the left the daily has gone. Commenting on the G7 summit held in Hiroshima May 19-21, Ms. Norimastsu, who edits the scholarly Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, wrote: “The summit can also be viewed as a ‘war conference’ by a war-profiteering special interest group.”
Japan being a democracy that cherishes freedom of speech and expression, Norimatsu is free to write what she likes to. But almost all of her columns are full of strong leftwing assertions just as outrageous as this particular piece, obviously reflecting the leftwing swing of the Ryukyu Times.
To get a direct sense of current public opinion in Okinawa, I took a quick trip to the islands of Ishigaki and Yonaguni last weekend, also visiting the Ishigaki and Yonaguni bases of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces (JGSDF). These bases are on a relatively small scale, but the personnel there were full of high spirits, reflecting a mettle and vigor to protect Okinawa, and the rest of Japan, against the increasing threat from China. Particularly impressive was the good relations the JGSDF personnel there have managed to cultivate with the local communities through various exchanges. That made me keenly aware of the changing perception of the military among the Okinawan people reflected in the afore-mentioned survey.
In contrast to my expectations, I saw no anti-base activists before the gates to both camps, and local residents told me the number of activists congregating in front of the base gates brandishing anti-JSDF banners has decreased significantly, especially on weekends.
But it is Xi Jinping’s recent remarks about Ryukyu that more seriously concern the people of Okinawa today. (Editor’s note: The English and Japanese uses of the term “Ryukyu” differ. In English, the term Ryukyu may apply to the entire chain of islands, while in Japanese, Ryukyu usually refers only to the islands that, after 1624, were previously part of the Ryukyu Kingdom. That year, the powerful Shimazu clan of Satsuma took control of the Ryukyu Kingdom.) On June 4, the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), ran an article at the top of its front page, reporting on Xi’s visit to the China National Archives of Publications and Culture in Beijing June 1-2. It quoted him as discussing in great detail historical relations between China and the Ryukyu Kingdom.
As he stopped in front of a woodblock-printed book depicting the history of Ryukyu, Xi told a curator he was instrumental in founding the archive. He was quoted as remarking: “When I was working in Fuzhou (in Fujian Province 1985-2002), I knew there was a Ryukyu museum and a Ryukyu tomb there, and that Fuzhou had a deep relationship with the Ryukyus.” Xi went on to say that Fujian’s history of interchanges with Ryukyu was long, noting “36 (which means many) clans of the Min people” had emigrated from Fujian to the Ryukyu Islands and settled there (in the 14th century).
Xi presumably meant to stress that many Chinese have emigrated to the Ryukyus over the centuries, insinuating that the Ryukyuans were blessed to learn from the high Chinese culture at the time and that there must still be many descendants of those early Chinese emigrants in Okinawa today.
These remarks by Xi will without doubt spur researchers across China to study the history of the Ryukyus—not the history of Okinawa, mind you. But either study will inevitably end up weaving the convenient story that, tracing back history, the Ryukyus were part of China. About a decade ago, China reasserted that the Ryukyu Kingdom had been its vassal state. It also asserted at that time that the issue of Okinawa’s territorial status remained unresolved.
Thoughtless Actions by Okinawa Governor
Xi’s remarks that the People’s Daily front-paged this time around, I believe, are a sign from China that they intend to launch a battle to take over Okinawa.
The CCP keeps insisting that China has sovereignty over the Senkakus—despite the fact that Japanese lived and caught fish there before the end of the last war and relics of a Shinto Shrine still remain on one of the seven now uninhibited islands. Beijing is sending Chinese Coast Guard patrol ships—essentially ships of the Chinese Navy—into the Japanese territorial waters around the Senkakus throughout the year.
China is expected to step up a concentrated offensive on Okinawa, claiming that the Ryukyus were a tributary state of Chiba long before becoming part of Japan in the late 1870s. I expect the coming battle over Okinawa to be much tougher and to last much longer than the ongoing clash over the Senkakus.
At this particular point in time, Okinawa’s leftwing Governor Denny Tamaki will be visiting China as a member of a delegation from the Japan International Trade Promotion Association (JAPIT), chaired by Yohei Kono, the pro-Beijing former president of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party. Not a few citizens of Okinawa naturally are very worried about what Tamaki and Kono will have to say while in Beijing.
Tamaki and Koho are among the most pro-Beijing of Japanese politicians. Tamaki last time visited Beijing with Kono under the same JAPIT framework April 14-19, 2019. In a meeting with Deputy Premier Hu Chunhua, Tamaki pleaded: “Please use Okinawa as a doorway to Japan for your Belt and Road initiative.” Hu gladly shot back: “We certainly will.”
In April, Tamaki set up a “regional diplomacy office” within the Okinawa prefectural government in order to build relationships based on trust by enhancing interactions with nations around the world, rather than leaving diplomacy to the state. The name of the new office sounds impressive, but one can hardly view Tamaki’s China-flattering “diplomacy” as beneficial to Japan’s national interests.
Furthermore, Tamaki has said that while he will visit China as part of the national delegation this year, he hopes to visit China representing Okinawa Prefecture alone on a regular basis starting next year.
Now that China has seemingly launched a battle to wrest Okinawa away from Japan, Tamaki’s propensity for reckless words and actions are not only a source of immense anxiety for the 1.5 million citizens of Okinawa but a matter of concern for all Japanese.
One wonders what promises Tamaki and Kono will be making with the Chinese in Beijing early next month. It is incumbent on the government to make absolutely sure what promises, if any, have been made, and put a good check on their words and actions going forward.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,054 in the June 29, 2023 issue of The Weekly Shincho)