Okinawa
A boat sails past a Patriot missile unit in Ishigaki Okinawa prefecture (Reuters/Kyodo)

A mouthpiece of China's Communist party has claimed that the Japanese Island of Okinawa, home to several major US military bases, should be ceded to Beijing.

China's foreign ministry has endorsed an article in The People's Daily, the country's most-read newspaper, demanding sovereignty over the southern Japanese Ryukyu Islands, of which Okinawa is the largest.

"Unresolved problems relating to the Ryukyu Islands have reached the time for reconsideration," claimed the article, which was penned by two scholars from China's top state-run think-tank.

The two academics, Zhang Haipeng and Li Guoqiang, argued that the Ryukyus were a vassal state of China before being annexed by Japan at the end of the 19th century, and that Tokyo's defeat in World War II should have prompted the return of the volcanic islands - home to about 1.3 million people - to Beijing.

The arguments echoed similar Chinese claims over a disputed group of islands in the East China Sea, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, which are at the centre of a deepening diplomatic crisis between Tokyo and Beijing.

"Academics have long paid attention to the history of Okinawa and [the] Ryukyus... but the Diaoyu islands are China's inherent territory, and have never been part of the Ryukyus or Okinawa," foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters.

Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga replied by saying that Japan's sovereignty over the Ryukyu archipelago, which stretches for about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from Japan's mainland, is beyond doubt.

Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands, hosts nearly three-quarters of the 50,000 US military personnel deployed in Japan.

'Narrow interests and objectives'

The People's Daily article comes amid growing diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Washington over a US Department of Defense report on China's military development.

The report argues that China's fast growing military capability "serves more narrowly-defined PRC (People's Republic of China) interests and objectives, including advancing territorial claims.

"PRC continues to pursue a long-term, comprehensive military modernization program designed to improve the capacity of its armed forces to fight and win short-duration, high-intensity regional military conflict."

Earlier this week, China's state news agency Xinhua condemned the report as "groundless," "unwise" and "harmful to the aspiration of both countries to forge a cooperative partnership".

"The report invoked Cold War thinking and zero-sum game mentality, and misjudged the nature of China's military investment," Xinhua added.