Japan Sees Chinese Groups Backing Okinawa Independence Activists

  • China seeks to divide public opinion in Japan, spy agency says
  • Agency says need to watch Chinese actions concerning Okinawa

Chinese universities and think tanks are forming ties with Okinawan independence groups in a bid to divide public opinion in Japan, a Japanese government agency said in an annual report.

By deepening ties with independence activists on the subtropical islands that host the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan, China hopes to swing public opinion in its favor and spark a split within Japan, the Public Security Intelligence Agency said without elaborating. The agency also said in the report published last week that Japan must pay attention to Chinese activities with regard to Okinawa.

There was no immediate response to a request for comment from China’s foreign ministry.

Asia’s two largest economies are in dispute over the ownership of a group of uninhabited islets near Taiwan, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Official media in China have also suggested that Beijing should refuse to accept Japanese sovereignty over the main islands of Okinawa, which maintained ties with both countries prior to annexation by Japan in the 19th century.

Tensions between Okinawa and mainland Japan have grown in recent years, with many of the 1.4 million residents resenting the burden of hosting the U.S. military. Even so, the independence movement has so far failed to gain momentum. A poll conducted by the Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper in May 2015 found two-thirds favored the status quo, while 21 percent said they wanted more self-determination as a Japanese region and just over 8 percent said they were pro-independence.

Japan is bolstering its own defenses on some of Okinawa’s more remote islands amid tensions with China’s navy and coastguard. Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force said Sunday it detected six Chinese ships including the Liaoning aircraft carrier sailing into the Western Pacific near Okinawa -- the first time the navy has spotted the Liaoning entering the ocean from the East China Sea.

The intelligence agency also referred in its report to an Aug. 12 opinion piece in China’s Communist Party-affiliated Global Times, which it quoted as saying that China should use the old name Ryukyu to refer to the islands, because calling them Okinawa was tantamount to accepting Japanese sovereignty.

— With assistance by Keith Zhai

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