HONG KONG — The ongoing diplomatic mind-games between China and Japan took a curious turn this week as Chinese state-run media published a lengthy article questioning Japan's right to Okinawa, a chain of islands that has belonged to Japan since 1879.
The article, written by two scholars at the China Academy of Social Sciences, referred to the status of the islands as an "unresolved historical issue" that has "arrived at the time for reconsideration." Prior to 1879, the Kingdom of Ryuku ruled the islands, and paid tribute to the Qing Dynasty as well as Japan.
The suggestion so angered the Japanese government that on Wednesday it lodged a protest with Beijing to say that "we can by no means accept the article in question if it reflects the Chinese government's stance."
On Wednesday, China's foreign ministry spokesman was asked twice whether or not China considers Okinawa a part of Japan. Both times, she declined to confirm.
Experts say it's likely an attempt to increase the pressure on Japan in the countries' dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. The US also has a large stake in Okinawa, where it holds several huge military bases.
It seems highly unlikely that China will directly challenge Japanese sovereignty over the archipelago—a move that would be akin to refusing to acknowledge Hawaii or Alaska as part of the United States—but the latest salvo serves only to increase distrust between Beijing and Tokyo.
These are dark and murky times in the Asia-Pacific.
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