The U.S. warns against Chinese ideological aggression spreading in Okinawa

The U.S. warns against Chinese ideological aggression spreading in Okinawa

Satoru Nakamura (President, Japan Okinawa Policy Research Forum)

 The U.S. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a report titled “China’s Influence in Japan” at the end of July, which has been attracting attention.

 Toshihiro Nikai, Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and Naoya Imai, an aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, are named as key members of the “pro-China” faction that is greatly influencing Prime Minister Abe’s policy toward China. However, while this was widely reported in the media, the part of the report that touched on “China’s operations in Okinawa” is not so well known.

 The approximately 50-page report was compiled over a two-year period starting in 2018, including interviews with about 40 experts. In it, a large number of words are devoted to “China’s operations in Okinawa.

 It points out that one of the key security concerns of Japan is the possibility that the Okinawans will “declare independence” due to their dissatisfaction with the Japanese government and the US. China’s most important target is also Okinawa, where there are many U.S. military bases, and it is pushing for Okinawan independence through diplomacy, disinformation, and investment.

 Furthermore, Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency, in its 2015 and 2005 annual reports, “Retrospection and Prospects of Domestic and Foreign Affairs,” “took up the issue of the possibility that Chinese influence could divide public opinion in Okinawa,” according to the report. First, let’s take another look at the Retrospective and Outlook of Domestic and Foreign Affairs.

 The 2017 edition states, “In Okinawa, where U.S. military facilities in Japan are concentrated, there have been moves to form public opinion in favor of China, such as approaching ‘Ryukyu independence forces’ that call for the ‘removal of all bases from the Ryukyu Islands’ and raising the ‘theory of undetermined Ryukyu ownership. Furthermore, in the column “China seeks to shape public opinion in Okinawa by raising the ‘undecided theory of the Ryukyu Islands'”, the article explains as follows

 The People’s Daily-affiliated Huanqiu Times (August 12) published an article titled “The ownership of Ryukyu is undecided; Ryukyu must not be called Okinawa. We have been calling the Ryukyu Islands “Okinawa” for a long time, but we should not use this name because it implicitly acknowledges that Japan has sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands.
 Already in China, universities and think tanks interested in the “undecided theory of Ryukyu’s ownership” have taken the lead in promoting academic exchanges and deepening relations with people involved in Japanese organizations that advocate “Ryukyu independence. Behind these exchanges, it is believed that there is a strategic aim to form a public opinion favorable to China in Okinawa and to divide the Japanese people.

Retrospective and Prospect of Domestic and Foreign Situation (January, 2009)” (Foreign Situation in 2008) Public Security Intelligence Agency

Leading U.S. Think Tanks

A research report released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

The cover of the research report “China’s Impact on Japan

 The CSIS report, in the words of a Keio University professor, “China is using indirect methods to influence Japan. There are hidden routes, such as influencing the movement of Okinawa through fundraising, influencing Okinawan newspapers to promote Okinawa’s independence, and eliminating the US military there,” it pointed out. It then concludes that “China is developing both mild influence activities in Japan, such as cultural diplomacy, bilateral exchanges, and state-run media guidance, and sharper and more malicious activities, such as coercion, information campaigns, corruption, and covert tactics.

 The author is also aware that the Ryukyu independence operation in Okinawa is being promoted on all fronts as described in this report. In particular, it has been accelerating rapidly since immediately after the September 2010 incident of a Chinese fishing boat collision off the Senkaku Islands (Ishigaki City, Okinawa Prefecture).

Until now, almost no Okinawans have self-identified themselves as Ryukyuan, which is different from Japanese. There were also few people who recognized themselves as “Uchinanchu” (Okinawans), but not as Japanese.

 However, in the last ten years, Okinawa has changed dramatically. Many young people are becoming politically active, based on their “identity” as Ryukyuan, not Japanese, and their “history” of “Okinawa being colonized by Japan. It seems to me that young people who want to become politicians have been targeted, although I can only assume that they have been brainwashed by someone.

 If such young people who openly advocate independence of the Ryukyu Islands are elected to the Diet, the future of Okinawa will be in jeopardy. The “ideological aggression” that has continued for many years in Japan, where there is no “anti-spy law,” must be said to have reached a dangerous level.

 So how will the “undecided ownership of the Ryukyu Islands,” as advocated by China, develop in the future? The key lies in an article published on May 12, 2001 on People’s Net, the website of the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.

 It was titled “Digging up the Ryukyu issue and laying the foreshadowing for the government’s change of position. The article suggests that China can initiate a “Ryukyu reconsideration” in three steps, as follows

 The first step is to open up private research and debate on the Ryukyu issue, including allowing the establishment of private organizations that pursue the historical issues of the Ryukyu Islands and support the restoration of the Ryukyu nation, and to make the history of Japan’s illegal occupation of the Ryukyu Islands known to the world. The government will not participate in or oppose these activities.

 The second step, after observing Japan’s stance toward China, is for the Chinese government to decide whether or not to formally change its position and raise the Ryukyu issue in the international arena. It is not uncommon internationally for the government of a country to adjust its position on a major geopolitical issue. If there is indeed a need to do so, then the Chinese government should play this card.

 Step three, if Japan becomes the spearhead in destroying China’s rise, China should invest real power in fostering a “Ryukyu nation revival” force in the Okinawa area. 20-30 years from now, if China’s strength is strong enough, this will not be an illusion. If Japan unites with the U.S. to threaten China’s future, China should make the Ryukyu Islands leave Japan and become a real threat to it. This is very fair.

 So, what step is the current relationship between Japan and China at? The author believes that it will soon enter the third stage.

A patrol boat of the Chinese Maritime Police Bureau tracks a Japanese fishing boat in the territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands, Okinawa, April 10, 2020 (Courtesy of Kazushi Kaneshiro)

 First of all, the international community, led by the United States, is building an encirclement network against China. Although Japan may not feel confident about this, it will ultimately follow the U.S. side and strengthen its stance against China.

 In addition, Japan and China are currently engaged in an unprecedentedly tense relationship over the Senkaku Islands. Because of these two factors, it will fall under the third stage of the “Ryukyu Reconsideration,” where Japan will be the spearhead in destroying the rise of China, and China will enter the stage of carrying out the cultivation of a “Ryukyu nation revival” force in Okinawa. For China, I think there are many areas for which it is unprepared, as the work for Okinawa’s independence has not gone as planned, but nevertheless, I believe that it is entering the final stage.

 One of the current security challenges for Japan vis-à-vis China is the daily intrusion of armed official ships of the Chinese Maritime Police Bureau and other vessels into the waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands. It has also been pointed out that a large number of Chinese fishing boats may be sent into the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands after the end of the fishing holiday period on August 16.

 The Japan Coast Guard, the Okinawa Prefectural Police, and the Self-Defense Forces are believed to be continuing to study and train how to deal with various possible situations in the Senkaku Islands. However, this alone is insufficient to conduct a “graphic exercise” to confront China’s aggression against the Senkaku Islands and Okinawa.

 While the Self-Defense Forces may be able to anticipate the military aspects of the situation, China’s diplomatic response, including the Ryukyu Islands’ independence effort, is already beyond the imagination of the Japanese at this point and is impossible to guess.

 For example, what would happen if China bypassed the Japanese government and proposed “joint development of the Senkaku Islands and the East China Sea” directly to Okinawa Prefecture, and Governor Denny Tamaki accepted the proposal? And what would happen if the Okinawan newspapers led the public opinion and the Okinawan business community also wanted the joint development?

 Common sense dictates that diplomatic authority belongs to the Japanese government, so it is impossible for Okinawa Prefecture, which has no diplomatic authority, to do so. However, we should not forget that since 2008, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Man and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have recommended to the Japanese government five times that the people of Ryukyu/Okinawa should be recognized as indigenous peoples and their rights should be protected.

 It is possible that the Ryukyu independenceists will appeal to the UN Human Rights Council and other bodies, saying that the Ryukyu Islands’ right to self-determination has been neglected and that diplomacy between China and Okinawa should be recognized. There is also a risk that the UN, in response to the appeal, will issue a recommendation to the Japanese government to “protect the rights of the Ryukyu Islands and Okinawa.

 If the Japanese government were to compromise, and Okinawa were to develop its own diplomacy with China, it would be needless to say what would lie ahead. It is certain that China will turn Okinawa into a “one country, two systems” administrative region of Japan and strengthen its control over the region, just as China wants.

Governor Denny Tamaki answers a reporter’s question after the results of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly election were announced. The supporters of the governor maintained their majority.

 As CSIS feared in its report, China will take advantage of the Senkaku-related turmoil and use every means at its disposal to tear Okinawa away from the US and Japan. We hope that not only the Self-Defense Forces but also the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Public Security Intelligence Agency will participate in the Senkaku contingency exercises.

 At that time, it is necessary to incorporate as “elements and factors” the movements of the political and business circles, the mass media, and the various organizations of the United Nations in Okinawa that are linked to the independence of the Ryukyu Islands. I believe that sharing these factors with the U.S. military and dealing with them is the best way to defeat “China’s ambitions.

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