Tamaki's visit also comes after he announced a plan to newly establish a "regional diplomacy office" in fiscal year 2023 that will enhance interaction with other countries.

After the Ryukyu Islands were annexed by Japan and renamed Okinawa in 1879, its fate has become a heart-wrenching lament. Okinawa was involuntarily drawn into World War II and used by the Japanese government as a gambit. In the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, up to one-fourth of the local population died. Okinawa, which occupies only 0.6 percent of the total surface area of Japan, hosts more than 70 percent of the US military bases stationed in the country. The strong dissatisfaction of ordinary people in Okinawa over hosting US military bases has been largely ignored, according to Chinese observers.

Tamaki will likely speak out for the local residents against the backdrop of a downturn in China-Japan relations and Tokyo's upgrading and expanding of its role of serving Washington's scheme to contain China, Da Zhigang, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Saturday.

Tamaki will advocate for peaceful diplomacy during the China visit, Da noted. "Okinawan people are not willing to become cannon fodder, be it a conflict between China and Japan over the Taiwan Straits or one stemming from the Diaoyu Islands-related disputes."

Can the governor of Okinawa pursue his own policy toward China? I am asking, because it seems strange to me that the governor would visit China as though he was a foreign dignitary. Can he pursue an independent policy towards China without it being sanctioned by the government of Japan? I am trying to understand the meaning and implications of this visit. Earlier, China said it would support the independence of Okinawa, so this visit certainly must be related to that.

2 Answers 2


Not really, but a regional politician can certainly facilitate Okinawa-China trade, tourism and cultural relations, within the limits of what existing existing national laws allow.

The report also noted stronger economic ties between China and Okinawa. Besides increasing Chinese investment in northern Okinawa, which has U.S. military facilities nearby, the number of Chinese tourists is surging in Okinawa. The report also noted more sister-city agreements signed between Chinese cities and Okinawa.

and the US bases are always a touchy subject in Okinawa and difficult to just "push through" from Tokyo. Having a governor that hinders that even more is a boon to China.

“There also is a convergence between, on the one hand, independists and those opposed to the U.S. presence in Okinawa and, on the other hand, leftist and pacifist activists, who oppose the revision of Article 9 [renouncing war] of the Japanese constitution and the reinforcement of Japanese self-defense capabilities. Beijing thus supports these movements as well, which fits neatly with China’s agenda by impeding and inhibiting Japanese military developments.

So, no, not full on independent policies by any means, but playing on Okinawan sensibilities can certainly be advantageous to China. And Okinawa also has a latent independence - from Japan - movement that is a useful pressure point.

That's the carrot part of things. The stick?

Between Dec. 17 and 22, the Chinese navy flew a total of 180 fighter jets and helicopters from the carrier in an apparent drill against the Nansei island chain, also known as the Ryukyu Islands, which includes Okinawa, where the United States has several military bases. This elevated threat threshold, along with the increasing assertiveness of other Chinese actions such as the spy balloon incident, brings new dynamics and risks to Okinawa itself.

Last, even without the above, Tamaki presents good value, PR-wise, for China, just because his views will be covered by the news:

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, who has long opposed the U.S. military presence on the islands, traveled to Washington in early March to meet members of Congress and officials at the Pentagon and State Department. Trying to stop the developing consensus in Washington and Japan, Tamaki says there is little chance China will invade Taiwan, the scenario that has become a preoccupation among U.S. officials.

Tamaki says the risk of war comes mainly from a potential action by Taiwan, such as a declaration of independence, or the U.S. ending Washington's decadeslong policy of having formal diplomatic relations only with Beijing. He said his effort focuses on persuading the U.S. where the risk is coming from.


He cannot pursue an independent foreign policy unless the government of Japan lets him, which is extremely unlikely.

Note that globaltimes.cn is a mainland Chinese web site, and thus to some degree under the control of the government of the PRC. The PRC, given their poor relations with Japan, have an interest in creating internal disputes and dislocations within Japan. They're highly willing to encourage an Okinawan separatist movement, given that would take up some of the attention of the Japanese government and would give them motive to ask the Americans to depart from their bases on Okinawa to placate the Okinawans.

Tamaki is presumably aware that he's helping a hostile government to some extent, but may believe that Okinawa would be better off as an independent state under the protection of the PRC. The inhabitants of Hong Kong would doubtless disagree.

  • By "leave their bases" do you mean "leave the bases as they are, unchanged, with US military personal present on the island" or "depart from the bases, with US military personnel going back to the USA"... "leave" seems to have two meanings here, and I'm not sure which would "placate" Okinawans.
    – James K
    Jun 25, 2023 at 16:27
  • @JamesK: Good point, fixed. Jun 25, 2023 at 21:40

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