The country once known as the Lewchew (Ryukyu) Kingdom was a tributary state of China during the Ming and Qing periods. However, ever since Japan’s annexation of the kingdom in 1879, the Chinese public opinion toward the question of the kingdom’s legal status and its relationship with China became ambivalent. By the time of the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the Lewchew question regained attention from the Chinese political elite and public opinion as the issue regarding “reversion of lost territory” emerged.
Following the beginning of the Pacific War between the US and Japan, in anticipation of the eventual peace negotiations regarding post-war territories and the East Asian geopolitical order, the ROC government‘s top policy-making organ, the Supreme National Defense Council, set up the International Problems Discussion Sessions to determine post-war policy. This paper focuses on discussions regarding the post-war legal status of the Lewchew, and the “Chiang-Roosevelt” summit during the Cairo Conference regarding the post-war Lewchew arrangements.
This paper reveals from internal government archives that the ROC government had varying internal views and did not have a consistent position on the post-war legal status of Lewchew, and was unable to reach real agreement even prior to the Cairo Conference. The three varying views included: (1) reversion to China; (2) reversion to Japan, but demilitarization; (3) trusteeship under an international organization.
During the “Chiang-Roosevelt” summit, President Roosevelt referred to the question of post-war Lewchew and enquired “more than once” whether China “would want the Lewchew returned”. Chiang replied that China would be agreeable to “China-US joint occupation”. This paper analyzes the underlying background and circumstances behind Chiang’s response and concludes the following: (1) Chiang based his response on the earlier internal policy-making discussions, and improvised accordingly based on Roosevelt’s spontaneous inquiry. (2) Chiang’s understanding of the Lewchew’s status shifted from “China’s lost territory” to “a legal status equal to Korea”. (3) Acknowledging the “terminability of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895)”, the Lewchews were not considered to be part of the territories to be returned to China. 4) China lacked a strong navy and thus faced challenges of extending its coverage the Lewchews. 5) Chiang felt compelled to “assure the United States” of China’s lack of territorial “ambitions” as he suspected that Roosevelt’s inquiry was to sound out Chiang’s intentions and accordingly encourage China’s resolve toward the war of resistance against the Japanese.