Island prefecture represents 70 per cent of land used by U.S. military . . .
Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of the administration of Okinawa reverting to Japan following 20 years of U.S. rule that saw the buildup of U.S. military forces in the prefecture. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio visited Okinawa for the occasion, his first visit since taking office last September. As part of the 1960 Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, Okinawa Prefecture hosts about 70 per cent of the land used for U.S. military bases in the country, despite only making up 0.6 per cent of Japan’s land area. The U.S. military presence in the prefecture, including more than half of the 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan, has been controversial for decades. Base-related issues have included sexual and gender violence, military accidents, noise and environmental pollution, and, more recently, the spread of COVID-19.
Okinawans reiterate longstanding plea . . .
Days ahead of the anniversary, Okinawan Governor Denny Tamaki urged PM Kishida to stop the controversial plan to relocate the U.S.’ Futenma airbase from the middle of Ginowan city to elsewhere on the island. Most Okinawans have long demanded it, and other bases, be moved out of the prefecture entirely. Meanwhile, an annual peace march calling for a decrease of U.S. forces in the prefecture took place on Saturday. Rallies have been held annually since 1978, but this year’s march was the first since 2019 due to the pandemic. Some Okinawans have joined the global Indigenous peoples’ rights movement – including at the United Nations – as another means to raise awareness of base-related issues and their impacts on local culture, history, language, and identity.
Clouding the issues . . .
Okinawa has been a vital site for the U.S.’ military presence in the Asia Pacific since the end of the Second World War. U.S. bases in Okinawa have played a part in multiple U.S. and UN military operations in the region. In the face of Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, Beijing’s naval activity near Okinawa, and cross-Taiwan Strait tensions, it appears that, at least for the time being, discussions about base relocations will remain just that, with Okinawan discontent on base-related issues likely to continue. This pause may provide an opportunity to address other pressing issues, such as the income and welfare gap with mainland Japan that has remained since reversion.
- The Japan Times: Okinawa stages peace march ahead of 50th anniversary of return to Japan
- Nikkei Asia: Okinawa, 50 years after return, still heavily in U.S. defense playbook
- Ryukyu Shimpo: On 70th anniversary of Japan-U.S. Peace Treaty, Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki asks for increased cooperation from Japan and the U.S., reduction of military bases