Many writers assume that the Ryukyus were an independent kingdom in 1879 when it was forcibly annexed by Japan. Prior to annexation, or “Ryukyu Shobun,” they operated as an independent kingdom, entering into tributary relationships with the Ming and Qing dynasty as well as with Satsuma.
In an editorial on 12 July 20141, the Ryukyu Shimpo claims there is hard evidence that, at the time of the takeover, the kingdom was truly independent:
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.
These treaties are proof that the kingdom was “an independent sovereign state” at the time of the takeover. A problem is that the Okinawans don’t have these documents in hand. Instead, the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has them. According to the Shimpo, the ministry “declined to comment on the documents for the reason that they do not know exactly how they got them.”
As a sovereign state, the Okinawans could argue that Japan’s annexation by force violated Article 51 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: “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.” That is, the annexation was illegal and, thus, void.
Independence or self-rule is a critical issue since it might be the solution to U.S. military bases in Okinawa. In other words, the decision to keep or remove them would no longer be in the hands of Japan and the U.S. Instead, the U.S. would need to deal directly with Okinawa. In that scenario, the bases would probably be drastically reduced or removed altogether.
1 “Treaties Show That Japan’s Annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom Was an Unjustified Act,” editorial, Ryukyu Shimpo, 12 July 2014.