Okinawa US military base issue festers in post-governor Takeshi Onaga era

By Kimura Akira Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/18 19:38:40

Governor of Okinawa Prefecture Takeshi Onaga, who long fought the Shinzo Abe administration's plan of relocating an American military base, died on August 8, causing a great stir within Japan as well as saddening local people. Former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, also an opponent of the plan, said that Onaga had steadfastly opposed building a new American military base in Henoko for the peace of mankind till the last moment of his life.

Problems facing Okinawa are rooted in the Japanese government and the US, namely the Abe administration's push to relocate a US Marine Corps air station in Futenma to Henoko. People in Okinawa aired clear opposition in a head-on manner and Onaga was the representative.

Back in 1609, the Satsuma domain invaded the Ryukyu Islands. Then in 1879 the islands were taken by force by the Meiji administration. The historical background has generated a long-standing prejudice and discrimination against Okinawa among Japanese. With merely 1 percent of Japan's territory, Okinawa hosts over 70 percent of American troops based in Japan. This burden on the people of Okinawa is to some degree deeply rooted in national prejudice.

After Onaga died, Abe expressed his condolences via media while making post-Onaga arrangements in Okinawa. Atsushi Sakima, former mayor of Ginowan where the Futenma base is located, was jointly named by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Komeito Party and Restoration Party to run in the September 30 Okinawa governor's election so that once Sakima wins, their plan for a landfill in Henoko and building a new base will be implemented.

Japan's defense white paper 2018, rolled out on August 28, talked at length about instabilities on the Korean Peninsula and nuclear threats from North Korea despite progress on the nuclear issue seen this year. This to much degree attempts to stress the necessity of American troops in Okinawa and so build momentum for a new US military base, which Onaga stood against exactly.

When seriously ill, Onaga held a press conference on July 28 and stressed that inter-Korean and US-North Korea summits have eased tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Yet the Japanese government was sticking to the outdated plan of building a US military base in Henoko in disregard of denuclearization progress on the peninsula and efforts made by all parties. This is utterly intolerable.

In his visit to China in April 2015, Onaga expressed his wish to promote economic exchange between Okinawa and China and enhance their economic relations by boosting Okinawa exports of seafood and meat to China.

This year the Abe administration has stepped up Japan's defense budget to over 1 percent of GDP to 5,290 billion Japanese yen ($47 billion), the highest since World War II. Now with the pending governor election in Okinawa, two entirely different concepts face a showdown: to hold on to Cold-War mentality and rely on American troops for protection, or to build a peaceful East Asia with a brand-new concept of a community with shared future.

New military bases in Henoko will be the focus of this election. When the election was announced on September 13, Onaga's successor Tamaki Denny and Sakima both immediately went to campaign in Nago municipality, where Henoko lies. Denny has clearly said he stands against building a new base and leaving a heavy burden on the next generation, while Sakima, who is not against a new base, has avoided taking a clear-cut stand and tried to shift the focus to the local economy. What's behind Sakima's campaign strategy is the LDP's long-standing method of influencing locals through economic compensation.

Whatever the election result, both the Japanese government and the majority of Japanese people are responsible for discrimination against Okinawa. And with the death of Onaga this issue cannot be morally evaded. When the election ends, I together with other Japanese people should listen to the voice of people in Okinawa and respect their choice.

The author is a professor at Kagoshima University, Japan.


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