Philip Bowrin: Lebensraum and China





Philip Bowrin is a former editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and columnist for the International Herald Tribune.

China’s noisy revival of its claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands looks to be the thin end of a wedge pointed towards and perhaps even beyond Okinawa, the location of major US military bases. As in its disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, China is using its version of history as well as its naval power to promote claims which once seemed merely theoretical.
 
As of now, China is not advancing its East China Sea island claims beyond the Senkakus, a collection of uninhabited rocks which are roughly equidistant between the northern tip of Taiwan and Ishigaki island in Japan’s southern Ryukyu islands. But the historical references which it is using to justify its Senkaku claim can be readily applied to at least some of the Ryukyus. That whole 1,000 kilometer long chain of islands was once claimed by China and may be again. 
 
For clear evidence of the Beijing wedge, the China Daily, Beijing’s English-language mouthpiece, on Sept. 14 quoted Ming Dynasty “Records of Imperial Title-Conferring Envoys to the Ryukyus” which includes the following passage about Ryukyans returning home from China: “Then Kume mountain comes into sight, that is where the land of Ryukyu begins.” Comments the paper: “This indicates that the Diaoyu islands belong to China, not Ryukyu”. This may seem an obscure bit of history irrelevant to today’s dispute. But look at the map. Kume island – Kumejima to the Japanese – lies 250 kilometers from the Senkakus but a mere 100 from Okinawa.
 
Four days later, the Council for National Security Policy Studies, under the China Policy Science Research Council, issued a declaration on Sept. 18 that “The Diaoyus do not belong to the Ryukyus, and the Ryukyus have never belonged to Japan. Japan's stealing of the Ryukyus was conducted without any legal grounds, and is completely illegal. Japan must unconditionally practice international laws as stipulated in the Cairo Declaration, Potsdam Proclamation, and immediately end its armed occupation and colonial rule of the Ryukyus. We firmly support the Ryukyu people's righteous fight for independence and self-rule, for ridding of Japanese colonial governance.”
 
In other words China appears to be using this bit of history to suggest that what are now regarded as the southern Ryukyus, which lie west of Kumejima, are not part of the Ryukyus, formerly a semi-independent kingdom. By implication they must belong to China.This is a huge step forward from China’s claim to the Senkakus alone, rocks which were of so little value that for years governments took scant notice of them...



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