Japan Focus once again waves the flag for China

It’s Japan Focus time again, with an article entitled "Much Ado over Small Islands: The Sino-Japanese Confrontation over Senkaku/Diaoyu". Before I get into the details, I will say that there are a couple of interesting claims that I’d like to hear more about.

So, off we go:

the San Francisco Treaty that purportedly resolved the Asia-Pacific War

"Purportedly" gives you an early indication of how the article is going to go.

In a draft paper prepared in 1950, soon after the Chinese Communist party came to power, it referred simply to the islands by their Japanese name as "part of Okinawa." Some doubt must remain on the status of this proposal until the actual document is published

We see that China thinking the Senkakus were Japanese is "doubtful", according to the author.

In 1943, he [US President Franklin Roosevelt] considered China’s claim to the Okinawan islands as a whole so strong that he twice asked Chinese president Chiang Kai-shek whether he would like to take possession of them in the eventual post-war settlement. Chiang, in a decision he is said to have later deeply regretted, declined.

That is an interesting new claim that I’d like to hear more about, although is "he considered China’s claim […] so strong" actually true, or is this wishful thinking by the author?

Why then, did the US split Senkaku from Ryukyu in 1972? Hara Kimie, Toyoshita Narahiko, and others, attribute the decision to Machiavellian US design.


occasional landings (by Chinese activists from a Hong Kong base and by Japanese rightists sailing from ports in Okinawa)

What’s the difference between an activist and a rightist?

In 2010, the Democratic Party of Japan’s government arrested the Chinese captain of a fishing ship in waters off Senkaku

Err, the DPJ or the government did not arrest him, it was the coastguard and police, and there was the small matter of the captain ramming a coastguard vessel twice, and the government did its best to try to pervert the course of justice to appease China.

Protest demonstrations followed in Hong Kong and cities and towns across China – cars were overturned, Japanese restaurant windows smashed, Japanese goods trashed

Err, what about the two department stores trashed top to bottom?

In April Diaoyu was for the first time declared a “core interest,” and in May the People’s Daily added that the status of Okinawa itself had to be negotiated.

And that is not worthy of any comment or analysis?

When the Government of Japan “nationalized” the “Senkakus” in 2012, it acted in relation only to the three of them nominally in private hands.

The scare quotes and phraseology is straight out of the Chinese playbook.

They are commonly known, even to the Japanese Coastguard, by their Chinese names, Huangwei and Chiwei, rather than their Japanese names, Kuba and Taisho

Can we get a reference for that one?

the inequity in the hand China is bequeathed by its forbears because they did not establish a chain of island colonial and dependent territories like the other powers of the early modern and modern world


Although anti-Japan sentiment in China is undoubtedly subject to some manipulation by government

You sure on that point? :facepalm:

if, for example Japan were to successfully to extract some resource, to attempt then to transport it across the Ryukyu Trench to Japanese markets would also be forbiddingly difficult and expensive

No. The Chunxiao gas field at least is quite far north of the Senkakus, so that avoids most of the trench issues, I think.

The election in Japan late in 2012 of a government of “Shinto” believers


who were denialists of Nanjing and “Comfort Women”

No, there are people in the government who disagree with the number of people killed at Nanking, and no-one (that I am aware of) in government denies that Comfort Women existed, it is the compulsion issue that is being debated by people, including Hashimoto.

Japan’s claim is rhetorical, ambiguous, manipulative, and hostile to compromise or negotiation, yet few doubt that the Japanese position is "fundamentally solid and quite tenable under existing international law."

So, Japan’s claim is correct, then. (Note, the author previously established that morality should trump the law.) How about describing China’s claim?

Cooperative arrangements for fisheries and resource extraction had been put in place in parts of this sea before the crisis that erupted in 2010 froze most of its mechanisms

So, it is all China’s fault, as I noted above. Existing fishing agreements did not include the EEZ, and it was the Chinese captain doing the illegal fishing and the ramming.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Andrew in Ezo

    In the spirit of academic debate (the author is an Australian academic) perhaps some of your questions could be posted in the comments section at the bottom of the article.

  2. JapanFocus peer review strikes again. Typos, contradictions, lack of appropriate sourcing, clearly unbalanced…

    The website in general is a bit crappy, and the copyediting is also ropey. If it looked at all decent, I would actually start to wonder where their funding was coming from.

    The thing is, we’ve had Tibet, the cultural revolution, Tiananmen Square, the suppression of Falun Gong, the continuing arrest of dissenters, a massive military build-up, the use of orchestrated public violence as political statement (not only against Japan), the pressurising of many other, smaller countries over territorial claims… Why write about China as if every country surrounding them but Japan thinks they’re a cuddly bunch of history addicts?

    How can anyone who knows anything about the history of Okinawa write this without wincing I don’t know:

    When China, one hundred and thirty-two years later, protested that there had never been an agreement between the two countries on the status of Okinawa, and urging that it be the subject of discussions, Japan and Okinawa itself were shocked, but it was stating a simple historical fact.

    Gavan, it’s probably the “urging” that shocked them. It’s not like the fun historical fact of Berwick-upon-Tweed still being at war with the Russians. Okinawans were treated abominably by the Japanese during the war, then they’ve been an aircraft carrier for a foreign power since then – does Gavan McCormack think they really enjoy being the plaything of larger powers? Does McCormack think the views of Okinawans themselves are outweighed by “simple historical facts”? (Is he aware that Okinawan Independence is a minority view?)

    Even when he tries to write about the Okinawan perspective (a very short section indeed – possibly added as an afterthought?), the only views sourced to Okinawans is “contest over sovereignty, in their regional waters, threatens them” and “the Senkaku islands did indeed “belong to Japan” and calling for Japan to be resolute (kizentaru) in defending them”. Mixed up with that is some mythical bollocks: “a long historical memory of friendly relations with China” and the views of people outside of Okinawa, in order to smother the obvious and unsurprising truth: Chinese claims to Okinawa outrage and scare the people living there.

    It’s as if his dislike of Japan is so strong, he’s prepared to sacrifice Okinawa in order to support Japan’s opponents.

  3. My interest having been piqued, I think I’ve tracked down the reference to

    They are commonly known, even to the Japanese Coastguard, by their Chinese names, Huangwei and Chiwei, rather than their Japanese names, Kuba and Taisho

    Mccormack made the same claim in a JapanFocus article the previous year. For that, he cited someone called Toyoshita Narahiko. The referencing isn’t entirely clear cut, but it’s almost certainly to this article here:


    and to this particular pair of sentences:


    This is really a bit difficult for my level of Japanese, but it seems to be saying that Toyoshita was surprised to find that the Chinese names for the two islands are used by the Japanese coast guard with American military forces when talking about using the islands for bombing practice. Poor taste, perhaps, but certainly a very different situation than McCormack’s re-telling of it.

    If I’ve understood it right, I’d flat out say he was misrepresenting a source.

  4. http://globalitewatchdog.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/women-uncomfortable-with-distortion-of-japan-sex-slave-reality/ not saying he’s wrong or anything (havent read it yet) but I just think it’s funny that Japan’s foremost expert on how women feel has put this out

  5. Test post – is this working? (Tried to post about the island name thing, but didn’t work.)

  6. @VK: OK, rescued from spam bin – not sure why it ended up there, though.

  7. @VK: Ahh, I see; I agree with your understanding, it sounds like a bad joke for their bombing practice.

    BTW, talking about references, reference 13 points to another JF article, which has an intro quote from Mr McCormack that contains the referenced quote, so once again following reference 1, you get reference 27, which finally tells you the real reference, Unryu Suganuma, Sovereign rights and territorial space in Sino-Japanese Relations: Irredentism and the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press, 2000, pp. 88-9. :headdesk:

  8. Mark in Yayoi

    Wow; that whole essay feels like the PRC paid him to write it. Don’t spend your 5 mao all in one place, Mr. McCormack!

    I find the idea that back in 1943, President Roosevelt “considered China’s claim to the Okinawan islands as a whole so strong that he twice asked Chinese president Chiang Kai-shek whether he would like to take possession of them” to not be support for the idea that Okinawa was part of China, but rather than Japan’s annexation of Okinawa was less than legitimate, and that if Okinawa were to be annexed by a larger neighbor, annexation by China (not yet the PRC then), with whom Okinawans had had good relations before the Satsuma invasion of Okinawa in 1609, would be preferable to Japan, who not two years later was using Okinawans as human shields in their desperate attempt to repel the US Army’s advance.

    In 1943, the slavery-like taxation that began in the Satsuma era was still within living memory; it didn’t end until 1903. If you had polled Okinawans in 1943 and told them they were going to be either part of China or part of Japan when the war finished, China would have won in a landslide.

    Now the Japanese conduct since the 1972 reversion has been infinitely better than it was before 1945. Today Japan would win that vote. McCormack doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge the turnaround in Japan’s management style, instead seeming to push the idea that if all of Okinawa might be China’s, surely this little group of islands must be, right?

    In the end the only human beings who have ever lived on these islands are Japanese. They built structures and made a living where no one had previously. If they have an owner, it’s none of the Japanese, Taiwanese, or PRC governments, but the Koga family and their descendants. (Even regarding the waters around them, Yaeyamans and Yonagunians have been fishing there for centuries — particularly during the late 1800s when Japanese taxes were so high that there wasn’t enough rice to feed everyone. The Chinese never have, as far as I know, though I’d be open to hearing about it if someone claims that they have.)

    I have an absolutely wonderful book written in 1905 by Charles Leavenworth, a professor in Shenyang, who visited Okinawa. It’s about Okinawa and its people, but he also translated some of the communications between China, Japan, and Ryukyu during the preceding years, and the bickering can be funny at times. He only speaks Chinese and English so all the Japanese names and places come out in Chinese (the legendary Saigō Takamori 西郷隆盛 becomes Hsi-hsiang Lung-sheng; that kind of thing). I’ll post some of it if people are interested.

    @VK — Adding to the dubiousness of that claim that those two islands are “commonly known … by their Chinese names, Huangwei and Chiwei” is the fact that with the original article being in Japanese, we don’t know that the names are actually being pronounced this way. The Japanese side will probably be pronouncing the characters as if they were Japanese, so they’d be Kio and Akao (presumably), just as the typical Japanese person calls Taipei “Taihoku”. I wonder if the US military intentionally uses the “wrong” names so that when they do their bombing practice, it doesn’t feel like they’re bombing Japanese places.

  9. McCormack is at least consistent on this. Forty years ago he co-wrote Japanese Imperialism Today, which argued that post-war Japan was still waging an aggressive monopoly capitalism against its neighbours. Strangely enough, the other author, Jon Halliday, later went on to write ( with Jung Chang) the stridently anticommunist Mao: The Unknown Story .

    Japan Focus is an odd one: clearly some of the articles are scholarly, but the whole site has a scrappy, wacko look and feel about it. Something of a pastime, perhaps?

  10. @Mark in Yayoi: Thanks for that info! It helps me understand things better.

    @Pessoa: Yup, like Debito.org, it has a really old feel to it.

    Oh, I found another interesting thing on the site:

    Peer review process recognized by Ulrich’s Global Serial Directory.

    Sounds impressive! But what exactly is Ulrich’s recognition?

    Often, this designation comes to us in electronic data feeds from publishers. In other cases Ulrich’s editors phone publishers directly for this information, or research the journal’s information posted on the publisher’s website.

    So basically the directory just accepts Japan Focus telling them that they are peer reviewed. :???:

  11. A serious peer-review process is usually double-blinded with either article rejection or serious revisions made. Then the editor-in-chief or his/her assistant takes a crack at copy editing and making suggestions for revisions to ensure quality control. It’s a lengthy process and for good reason. Japan Focus seems like as a shoe-string budget operation with an obvious political agenda attached to it. You’re not going to get many serious academics publishing their work there first (if ever) because the website is fourth-tier ranked (at best) or not really considered peer-reviewed at all (at worst). I’ve spoken to a few scholars who told me that it’s not worth publishing your work there if you’re concerned about satisfying tenure committees and other job advancement reviews. It’s a website more for the casual reader. Not a specialist. They’re probably right.

  12. Andrew in Ezo

    “Chinese claims to Okinawa outrage and scare the people living there.”
    You can say that again. Heck, nobody wants to be under Chinese domination, not even the Chinese themselves, if the number of rich ones (including some apparatchiks) moving their assets and family to western nations is an indication.

  13. @Paul:

    What shocks me is that there are apparently serious academics submitting this kind of corrupted poor quality material in the first place. Gavan McCormack isn’t some rookie. He’s a Professor at ANU. I presume he’s had to teach students how to get this kind of stuff right.

  14. Here’s another odd article (republished from a newspaper) on the 60th anniversary of the ending of the war:


    In it, he refers to South Korea as “Asia’s most vibrant democracy” (South Korea’s certainly a democracy, but it’s not rated as democratic as Japan on any rankings I’m aware of; turnout (vibrancy?) certainly hadn’t been higher in the elections before this article), and writes as if the various war apologies/compensations etc. never happened until the 1995 Diet resolution. Controversial decisions made by the Americans about postwar Japanese governance are implied to be Japan’s responsibility. There are some odd things said about the emperor’s retention, too.

    I think it’s entirely reasonable to raise the issue of holding people to account for things they did in the war, but he fluffs it. For someone who is supposed to be a specialist in Japanese history, he actually comes across like your average half-informed JapanToday commenter.

  15. VKMay 31, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    What shocks me is that there are apparently serious academics submitting this kind of corrupted poor quality material in the first place.

    As opposed to wannabe academics such as yourself. If you can’t see that South Korea is a far more vibrant and democratic society than Japan, then you really have issues with reality.

  16. @Varus:

    If you can’t see that South Korea is a far more vibrant and democratic society than Japan

    [citation needed]

  17. In the end, I suppose, academics arguing with academics over who is the most academic academic is rather academic.

  18. @Varus:

    Varus my addled little stalker! I hope you’re sober. Could you explain what you mean by “vibrant”?

    At the time the article was written, voter turnout in general elections was lower in Korea, there was little difference in press freedom, and overall common democracy rankings put Japan a bit higher overall. Both countries have largely had the same right-wing party (under different names in Korea) in power except for a short interlude. Personal (and familial) corruption was also a far more serious problem at the highest level in Korea (Roh was President at the time, Kim Dae Jung’s son was imprisoned for bribery, etc. etc.) I’m not sure what’s vibrantly democratic about the National Security Act, either. Don’t forget that Korean democracy isn’t that old. We’ve got the daughter of a military dictator as president.

    I really don’t mean to pick on Korea, and of course, Japanese democracy is far from perfect. It just seems like an odd thing for a supposed academic to say so declaratively about a country and with the clear intent of implying Japanese democracy is nowhere near as “vibrant”, when at the time, if either country was, it would have been Japan.

    Before you go on about protests and demos, “noisier” isn’t the same as vibrantly democratic. Otherwise Egyptian democracy would be a paragon of vibrancy.

    I await your incisive, coherent analysis.

  19. I’ve found stuff on this:

    [Roosevelt] considered China’s claim to the Okinawan islands as a whole so strong that he twice asked Chinese president Chiang Kai-shek whether he would like to take possession of them in the eventual post-war settlement.

    We only have meeting notes from the Chinese side, and Chiang’s diary.

    It appears Roosevelt asked for Chiang’s view on the future of the Ryukyus, and whether China wanted to take control of them. Chiang suggested joint trusteeship with the US.

    Here’s what seems to be missing from McCormack’s account.

    1. “Twice offered” actually means the question was raised more than once at the same private dinner. Not on two separate occasions.

    2. In one of McCormack’s own sources, the exchanges are described as Roosevelt inquiring whether or not China wanted to claim the Ryukyus – not a “here, take them, your claims are strong” statement. His motivations for raising the issue are a matter of debate (to be butter up the Chinese, or to punish Japan are two that Eldridge raises)

    3. Roosevelt also offered Chiang control of Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos). Does that mean he thought China had a strong historical claim there too?

    4. Roosevelt was going rogue: the state department had already ruled out Chinese control of Okinawa.

    5. Despite public rhetoric, Chiang’s diary shows that he wanted the restoration of territory taken after 1931 – which excluded the Ryukyus.

    6. Despite some public rhetoric, Chiang’s diary shows that he did not view the Ryukyus as part of China. He viewed their status as similar to Korea’s.

    The references I used: For Chiang’s diary:

    Wang, H., & Huters, T. (2011). Politics of Imagining Asia. Harvard University Press.

    For more general details, a posted message by the historian Robert Eldridge from the late 1990s

    The Indochina offer can be sourced to Dan, N. V. (2010). Churchill, Eden and Indo-China, 1951-1955. Anthem Press, or you can look at Wikipedia’s sourcing on various pages to do with Chiang.

  20. @VK: Wow, super, thanks! I think it will be safe to assume that all his work needs a double-check on the sourcing, and that their peer reviewing process is suspect. :???:

  21. Mark in Yayoi

    If anyone wants to read that Charles Leavenworth book which contains English translations of late-1800s Chinese records of the Ryukyu conflict, it’s online here:


    Or download the PDF from here:


    The action begins in the 4th year of Kuang-Hsü (光緒; 1878) but many of the assertions from both sides could come out of present-day mouths. Professor Leavenworth speaks Mandarin but not Japanese, so except for the most well-known words, he transliterates all the Japanese personal and place names into Chinese, but he also leaves the kanji alongside, so once you get the hang of it it’s easy to keep track of things.

    There’s a map at the end of the book, and on that map Kuba-jima and Uotsuri-jima are labeled with their Japanese names. Awful magnanimous for an author who would, if there were any chance that those two islands were Chinese around those times, have every reason to be a Chinese partisan, don’t you think?

  22. Thanks for that link, Mark. Looks like an interesting book to browse.


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