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By Robert D. Eldridge


June 10, 1999

I would like to thank Jing Zhao for his question, which I am including here.


I want to ask a tiny question: Did you find any involvement from the Chinese side of the Okinawa issue? I read somewhere about Jiang Jieshi's nationalist government's secret work seeking the possibility of Okinawa's "return" to China.

Jing Zhao, San Jose


Indeed, there was quite a bit of involvement from the Chinese side regarding Okinawa, particularly during the wartime period. However, it was often contradictory, as the following discussion (focusing more on the U.S. side) will show:

In late November 1943, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, along with their advisors, met in Cairo, Egypt, to discuss the progress of the war against Japan and to announce their agreements on the territorial disposition of Japan. It is not possible here to discuss in detail the entire conference, but one episode in particular that directly concerned

Okinawa (and China) is related here below that I would like to use to put Jing Zhao's question into perspective.

During a private dinner with the Chiangs on the evening of November 23, President Roosevelt asked Chiang China's intentions regarding the Ryukyu Islands. According to the memorandum written by the Chinese side (Roosevelt's special assistant Harry Hopkins was present but did not apparently take notes), "The President referred to the question of the Ryukyu Islands and enquired more than once whether China would want the Ryukyus." To this, Chiang reportedly replied that "China would be agreeable to joint occupation of the Ryukyus by China and the United States and, eventually, joint administration by the two countries under the trusteeship of an international organization." (See "Chinese Summary Record [translation] of Roosevelt-Chiang Dinner Meeting [November 23, 1943]," FRUS, The Conferences at Cairo and Tehran, 1943 [Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1961], p. 324.) Chiang, in his own notes, explained that he responded this way because he did not want the United States to think that China had territorial ambitions in mind, and thus sought to "put the U.S. (government) at ease." (See Chiang Kai-shek, Sho Kai Seki Hiroku 14 (Jihon Kofuku [Chiang Kai-shek's Secret Records Vol. 14 (Japan's Surrender), Tokyo: Sankei Shimbunsha , 1977), p. 122.)

The Chinese summary of the conversation suggests that Roosevelt, by asking "more than once" about the Ryukyu Islands, was quite willing to agree to China's taking, in effect, unilateral control over the islands. Why Roosevelt made Chiang this offer, despite himself having announced the principles of the Atlantic Charter of not taking the spoils of war, is an interesting question. It does in any case reveal his unilateral, top-down style of decision-making by not consulting with nor relying on the State Department's territorial studies with near disastrous results. One explanation of Roosevelt's approach to Chiang regarding the disposition of the Ryukyu Islands seems to be that he may have actually believed China wanted the Ryukyu Islands. Indeed, as the Chinese summary record shows, their conversation was conducted in the context of the "restoration of territories." Roosevelt, the evidence suggests, was aware of China's various claims to the Ryukyu Islands, mostly seen in editorials in the nationalistic press, but also seen in comments by Foreign Minister T. V. Soong, the older brother of Chiang's wife, all of which, while inconsistent in nature, had been reported by U.S. Embassy officials in China, and had received coverage in the international and U.S. press.

The comments in question appear in 1942 and 1943 and are both editorial and official in nature. The first noted comment appeared in the April 6, 1942 edition of Ta Kung Pao. It argued that the "Liuchiu Islands" should be detached from Japan in the peace settlement. ("The Ambassador in China [Clarence E. Gauss] to the Secretary of State [June 22, 1942]," FRUS, 1942, China [Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956], p. 732.) Again in January 1943, the Ta Kung Pao published a special article entitled "How to Liquidate Japan" by Shao Yu-lin, a former student from Kyushu University in Japan who was then the Director of the Information Department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While Shao, who was also a member of Chiang's Household Secretariat, was described by Ambassador Clarence E. Gauss as being "strongly nationalistic in his views," Gauss admitted that at the same time Shao's views concerning Japan were "believed to be generally representative of Chinese official and private opinion." Regarding China's postwar aims, Shao called for the "restoration of Formosa, the Ryu Kyu Islands and the Four Northeastern Provinces."("The Ambassador in China to the Secretary of State [January 7, 1943]," FRUS, 1943, China [Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1957], pp. 842-843.) Prior to this, Soong, at his first official press conference as Foreign Minister on November 3, 1942, publicly called for the recovery of the Ryukyu Islands (as well as Manchuria and Formosa).("The Ambassador in China to the Secretary of State (November 5, 1942)," FRUS, 1942, p. 174.) So we see that it was not only vocal semi-official newspapers but government spokesmen that expressed the desire to see the Ryukyu islands "restored" to China. (Years later these claims would still be heard. The controversy regarding Chiang Kai-shek's book, China's Destiny, where a phrase relating to the Ryukyu Islands was later hastily added in the second edition, is well-known. Regarding China's views on an early peace treaty with Japan, and if I remember correctly, territorial claims, see Chang Hsia-hai, "The Treaty with Japan: A Chinese View," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 26, No. 3 [April 1948], pp. 505-514.) It was with this belief, perhaps, that Roosevelt asked Chiang about the Liuchiu Islands. Had Roosevelt actually bothered to read the State Department memorandums on Okinawa's territorial status, he would have known that Chinese control was not considered a viable option for the disposition of the Ryukyu Islands.

Roosevelt may have had other reasons for asking Chiang as well. Roosevelt's approach suggests his method of dealing sternly and strictly with enemy states, as the call for "unconditional surrender" would suggest, while at the same time raising the status of the Allied countries, particularly China, as Japanese historian Iokibe Makoto suggests. (Iokibe Makoto, "Kairo Sengen to Nihon no Ryodo [The Cairo Declaration and Japanese Territory]," Hiroshima Hogaku [The Hiroshima University Law Review], Vol. 4, Nos. 3-4 (March 1981), p. 127. Iokibe's article later formed a large part of Chapter 4 in his award-winning 1985 book, Beikoku no Nihon Senryo Seisaku [U.S. Occupation Policy for Japan], Tokyo: Chuo Koron, 1985.) Roosevelt may have been trying to strengthen China's confidence by showing Chiang that he considered China to be one of the Four Great Powers, one of the "Four Policemen" that Roosevelt was hoping would guarantee the security in the postwar world. Indeed their very meeting was representative of this belief. In that sense, Roosevelt, never a fan of Japan, may have been hoping for Chiang's help in limiting Japan's regional power and territorial size and hoped that the transfer of the Ryukyu Islands to Chinese control would contribute to that goal. Roosevelt likely as well was seeking to punish Japan, mistakenly believing that the Ryukyu Islands were taken or stolen from China by Japan, and thus felt that stripping the islands from Japan would be justified and not subject to his own Atlantic Charter.

The final version of the Cairo Declaration, issued on November 27 by the three leaders, strongly suggests this latter possibility. It reads:

The Three Great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan. They covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion. It is their purpose that Japan shall be stripped of all the islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occupied since the beginning of the first World War in 1914, and that all territories, and that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China. Japan will also be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed. The aforesaid three great powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.

Ironically, Roosevelt's intentions in the Cairo meeting and this Cairo Declaration were unknown by those primarily responsible for planning (and implementing this new policy) in the State Department. Despite the very political and diplomatically explosive nature of discussions on the disposition of enemy territories, Roosevelt had excluded members of the State Department, including his Secretary of State, with the exception of the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, W. Averell Harriman. This in fact was representative of the President's style of excluding the State Department in such meetings during the war. Roosevelt thus, by not having anyone from the Far Eastern group with him at the time, was not able to make use of expert advice on the Far East. Indeed, the evidence suggests, as some historians, like Iokibe, have demonstrated, that he did not even seek to acquire or use the documents (which while entertaining the idea of the "return" of Okinawa to China, or perhaps a joint trusteeship, in the end called for Okinawa's retention by Japan, once it had been demilitarized) that had been prepared in the Territorial Subcommittee, and thus great misunderstandings emerged (as they would at the Yalta Conference as well).

In March 1998, the memoirs of the late Japan expert Hugh Borton, one of the original members of the Division of Political Studies (created in January 1943) which supplied the Territorial Subcommittee with its recommendations, were published in Japanese (but not yet in English) that highlighted the concerns of the State Department experts regarding East Asia and territorial issues. Borton writes, "None of us knew anything about a conference in Cairo except that Prime Minister Churchill, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, and President Roosevelt had been meeting at an undisclosed place. To our knowledge, the president had made no request for documents or papers on postwar Far Eastern problems in preparation for the meeting. When we subsequently learned that President Roosevelt had taken only military advisers to Cairo, and the single State Department officer present had only acted as interpreter for the president during his conversations with Chiang Kai-shek, Dr. [George] Blakeslee [another Far East expert] and I were extremely apprehensive lest all our planning on postwar problems in the Far East would be completely ignored by the president." (Hugh Borton [edited by Iokibe Makoto], Sengo Nihon no Sekkeisha Boton no Kaisoroku [Builder of Postwar Japan: The Borton Memoirs], Tokyo: Asahi Shimbunsha, 1998) pp. 130-131.)

Completely caught unawares, the Division of Political Studies decided at its December 3, 1943 meeting to discuss the territorial provisions vis-a-vis Japan, as found in the Cairo Declaration. Blakeslee, as the expert on the Far East, was asked to give his interpretations of the declaration. Blakeslee began by stating "his belief that "the Liuchius [as well as] the Kurile Islands, the Bonin and Volcano Islands, (and Marcus Island) in all probability did not fall within the meaning" of the phrase found in the Cairo Declaration, "Japan will be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed." After discussing each of the other territories, Blakeslee took up the question of Okinawa, explaining that Japan "had been interested" in the islands "for many centuries." The monarchy in the Liuchiu Islands, Blakeslee continued, had paid tribute both to China and Japan, eventually being "conquered" by the Japanese feudal domain of Satsuma. Without explaining what happened in the meantime (specifically, 250 years of the continuation of this curious period of "dual subordination"), Blakeslee pointed that the islands were later annexed in 1879 after the "murder of some shipwrecked Japanese sailors on Formosa, and in 1881, China recognized this annexation." Blakeslee concluded by stating that "While there [was] some slight violence in Formosa in connection with the annexation of the Liuchius, it did not appear to be of the type which fell within the meaning of the phrase in question in the Cairo Declaration." When asked how the Declaration had been prepared, China expert Stanley Hornbeck stated that "judging from internal evidence, it appeared to have been drafted in some haste, either by the principals concerned or by their secretariat," and added that in his opinion, "it would be a mistake to attach too much importance to the exact phraseology of the document."

However, that is exactly what was not possible. Being a public (and presidential) statement of U.S. and Allied war aims against Japan, planners and policy-makers on both sides would have to take into account what was said. References to the phrase, "territories taken by greed or violence," in the Cairo Declaration would continue up until the 1951 Peace Treaty with Japan, although it was hard to argue so in the case of Okinawa.

It is hard to say, based on the numerous documents from the period, that the State Department seriously considered giving Okinawa to China, although it was looked at as an option. China's claims were weak at best; it was not the desire of the inhabitants to become a part of China; and China's ability to administer another territory (when itself was plunging into civil war) was doubted.

Even the Chinese were sending conflicting messages, as the following exchange shows. In an enclosure to the June 2, 1942 despatch cited above, a copy of a memorandum of conversation by the Third Secretary of the Embassy, John S. Service, with the Director of the Eastern Asiatic Affairs Department of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Dr. Yang Yun-chu, can be found. Regarding the Liu Chiu Islands, according to Service's report, the director said that "it was unfortunately inevitable during war time that there should be exaggerated statements by private individuals concerning war aims; that the truth of the matter was that the people of the Liu Chius were not Chinese and the number of Chinese residents there probably were not more than a few tens, that the islands, which had only been tributary to China, had been entirely separated from it for almost eighty years; that they were unimportant economically and strategically, and that they were now in effect an integral part of Japan, to which they were geographically closely related. He was sure, therefore, that neither the Minister for Foreign Affairs nor any other part of the Chinese Government contemplated their return to China in a peace settlement." (See "Memorandum by the Third Secretary in China [Service] to the Ambassador in China [June 17, 1942]," China, 1942, pp. 732-733.)

Shortly before Mr. Service's passing earlier this year, I had a chance to ask him (by letter) about Chinese intentions. Perhaps representative of the confusion over the question of policy regarding the Ryukyus within the Chinese Government, Service explained to me that he did "not recall that Okinawa was a very hot topic" among the Chinese at the time. (Letter from John S. Service to RDE, October 16, 1998.)

While doing this research (the above discussion appears in more detail in my doctoral dissertation, "Okinawa in Postwar U.S.-Japan Relations, 1945-1952: The Origins of the Bilateral Okinawa Problem," [Kobe University, March 1999]), I was curious about the State Department's use of the name "Luchu" and "Liuchiu," which are the Chinese pronunciations of the Okinawa (Ryukyu) Islands. Even as State Department planners were arguing for the return or retention of Okinawa by Japan, they were doing so using the Chinese name, as can be seen in the title of some of the documents from this period. Finally, on December 20, 1945, it dawned on someone to change the name of a planning paper from "Disposition of the Liuchiu (Ryukyu) Islands" to "Disposition of the Ryukyu (Liuchiu) Islands," to reflect the State Department's views. After that, as China plunged into civil war, Roosevelt's Four Policemen concept died an early death, and the U.S. military sought exclusive strategic control over the Ryukyu Islands, no one ever again would give consideration to China's tenuous claims to Okinawa. Instead, the State Department would have its hands full vis-a-vis the Joint Chiefs of Staff trying to allow Japan to keep its sovereignty over Okinawa. I hope I was able to answer the "tiny question" by this long answer.

Robert D. Eldridge

For further reading, I would recommend:

Xiaoyuan Liu, A Tentative Partnership: The United States and China Contemplate the Postwar Disposition of Japan and the Japanese Empire (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Iowa, 1990), particularly pp. 179-189.

George H. Kerr, Okinawa: The History of an Island People (Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1958)

George H. Kerr, Okinawa: The History of an Island People (Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1958)