[Editorial]Treaties show that Japan’s annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom was an unjustified act

July 12, 2014 Ryukyu shimpo

Three treaties, which were signed between the Ryukyu Kingdom and other countries about 160 years ago have provided a new perspective on the current state of Okinawa, its modern history and the hardships experienced by Okinawan people.

These treaties will serve as a great stepping-stone to the future when the Okinawan people will assert the right to self-determination.

In 1854, a Treaty of Amity between the Ryukyu Kingdom and the United States was concluded, which was followed by the conclusion of a Treaty of Amity between the Ryukyu Kingdom and France in 1855, and Holland in 1859. Some international law scholars suggest, based on these treaties, that Japan’s annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which is called “Ryukyu Shobun” or disposal of the Ryukyu Kingdom, in 1879, was an unjustified act according to customary international law at the time. They allege that the Okinawan people could press the Japanese government to reconsider the unwarranted act in the context of international law of today. Article 51 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties provides that: “The expression by a State of consent to be bound by a treaty which has been procured by the coercion of the representative of that State through acts or threats directed against him shall be without any legal effect.”

Regarding the issue the scholars pointed out, an official of the Foreign Ministry avoided a direct answer to the Ryukyu Shimpo reporter, saying that it is difficult to comment definitely on it. We would like to investigate further the facts of the Japanese government’s violation of the sovereignty of Okinawa by force, in terms of the Ryukyu shobun. Okinawan public opinion on pursuing restoration of sovereignty will grow in the future.

After the Ryukyu Shobun, the government also carried out Japanization or imperialization policies in Okinawa. As a consequence of it, the tragedy of the Battle of Okinawa occurred. After the war, Okinawan people have been suffered from human rights violations and abuses under the U.S. military occupation. We have also continued to be oppressed by the heavy burden of the military bases after Okinawa’s reversion to Japanese sovereignty. When considering the status and history of Okinawa like this, we realize that all problems come from the Ryukyu Shobun. There have been many points of views on this subject among scholars and journalists through history. Fuyu Iha, the founder of modern Okinawan studies, is known for describing the Ryukyu Shobun as an emancipation of slaves. He viewed Japan’s annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom as an evolution in Okinawa’s history.

However, the government has messed with the Okinawan people, who have lost their right to self-determination by the Ryukyu Shobun. Chofu Ota, a journalist who had preached to the people that they become Japanese nationals, lamented that Okinawa had become a“sponger” like a colonized country. We have been faced with an absurd situation that stems from the Ryukyu Shobun.
Hideaki Uemura, a professor at Keisen University, suggests the Ryukyu Shobun has no legitimacy in international law. He has pointed out that colonialism has been continuing in Okinawa, where the Japanese government has disregarded the people’s decisions on the U.S. military issue.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau has started construction of an alternative base for the U.S. Marine Air Station Futenma despite objections from the local people. So we think Uemura’s suggestion is correct. Since the Ryukyu disposal in 1879, the government has trampled on the right to self-determination of Okinawa. It is evident that the government has taken an unfair attitude toward Okinawa. The Japanese government confiscated the documents of the three treaties between the Ryukyu Kingdom and other countries. Currently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs holds the documents. They declined to comment on the documents for the reason that they do not know exactly how they got them. It is regrettable that they avoid accountability. There is no reason why the government should continue to hold the documents. We would like the government to return the documents to the Okinawan people. These documents will help prove that Okinawa was an independent sovereign state and will serve as the basic materials to seek the right to self-determination.

(English translation by T&CT)

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