- - Thursday, June 6, 2013

After weeks of challenging Japan’s sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, through official Chinese state-run media, Beijing recently voiced a sudden change of heart.

A senior Chinese military leader delivered an about-face to an international conference claiming China, in fact, recognizes that the Ryukyu island chain belongs to Japan after all.

Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of staff for the Chinese army, offered this dramatic change of tone in Singapore last week at the annual Shangri-La defense conference attended by major Asia-Pacific nations’ officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

“Please be assured that China’s position has not changed” on Japan’s sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands, Gen. Qi told an audience of reporters and defense officials.

“Scholars are free to put forward any ideas they want. It doesn’t represent the views of the Chinese government.”

One problem with Gen. Qi’s statement is that the opposite views challenging Japan’s sovereign rights to the Ryukyus were expressed by China’s state-sponsored researchers and an army major general in the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, which permits no public views contrary to the regime’s policies.

China and Japan have been embroiled in naval and maritime brinkmanship over the Senkaku islands — known in China as Diaoyudao — saddled between Okinawa and Taiwan, over the past several months. Beijing is threatening force to take the islands, and Japan is busy readying its troops to defend them.

However, on May 8, China dropped a bombshell article in the People’s Daily.

The newspaper published a direct challenge to Japan’s claim of sovereignty over the entire Ryukyu island chain. Tens of thousands of American troops currently are stationed on Okinawa.

The article was written in the name of two government researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. They claimed that the Ryukyus never belonged to Japan.

A few days later, Army Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan and a state-media-favored military commentator told reporters across the nation that China, not Japan, actually owns the Ryukyus.

Japan lodged a diplomatic protest.

“We cannot under any circumstances accept the People’s Daily article if it reflects the Chinese government’s view,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima called China’s claims “ridiculous.”

China rejected Japan’s protest by announcing that “China does not accept Japan’s representations or protests.”

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