By Unify for Peace, Ryukyu Islands, Special for USDR
The U.S. government must make a commitment to confine its military footprint on the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa in order to repair the fractured relationship between the Okinawan people and the central governments of Japan and the United States — so that the region’s security needs can be met and the island can forge ahead with economic expansion.
“Enough is enough. Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands have shouldered a heavy burden for 70 years, and we believe the time has finally come for more transparency and more respect — and that must begin with an agreement of no further build out of military installations. Not one square foot more,” said Okinawa native Stephanie A. Wakeman, founder of Unify for Peace, Ryukyu Islands.
Okinawa is one-third the size of Rhode Island, but it is home to more than half of the 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan. And although Okinawa accounts for less than 1 percent of Japan’s total area, it is home to 75 percent of the U.S. bases in the country — which take up nearly one-fifth of the land on its main island.
During World War II, in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 alone, one-quarter of the civilian population was killed — nearly 100,000 people. After the war, the island was under U.S. occupation until it was returned to Japanese control in 1972, 20 years after Japan’s 1952 emergence from American occupation.
“More transparency is desperately needed to repair relations that have been strained over decades of occupation and sacrifice. The current conflict over the planned U.S. military expansion in Henoko Bay is the latest in a long and contentious history since World War II. This must be dealt with urgently: The Japanese central government must propose an immediate alternative solution to the U.S. Defense and State Departments to lessen the military burden on Okinawa,” Wakeman said.
“But the issue is larger than that. We must think bigger to move forward. We at Unify for Peace, Ryukyu Islands are calling for a treaty to be signed between the people of Okinawa, the Japanese central government and U.S. government, which guarantees no further buildout of military installations in Okinawa. This will help repair relations between Okinawans and the Japanese central government, and boost confidence and restore hope for the Okinawan people,” she said.
Unify for Peace, Ryukyu Islands — named for the string of islands (of which Okinawa is the largest) that was once an independent kingdom and was annexed by Japan in 1879 — is committed to containing the U.S. military’s footprint on Okinawa and seeking diplomatic, long-term accords between the citizens of Okinawa and the governments of Japan and the United States.
Wakeman, a native of Okinawa who lives in the United States, recently traveled throughout Okinawa as debate over construction of a new U.S. base escalated to levels not seen in 20 years. The political battle — with the governor of Okinawa opposing the construction and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushing for it to go forward — is now headed to the courts.
“After listening to many perspectives in Okinawa, it is clear to me that Okinawans like Americans. When it comes to the U.S. military installations, however, they want more accountability, more justice and a more balanced relationship. The U.S. military needs to see through its plans to consolidate its presence on Okinawa, with no additional buildout, to set the tone for the next phase of its relationship with the people of Okinawa. Right now, Okinawans feel their voices are not heard, and it has had a devastating sociological and psychological impact. Okinawa has the highest divorce rate, the highest birth rate and lowest wage in Japan. A good-faith gesture from the U.S. military to stop expansion of further buildout is long overdue,” Wakeman said.
“Day in, day out, Okinawans live with noise, with pollution, and constant threats to their personal safety from aircraft mishaps. High school students must pause during their studies in the evening every time a military aircraft roars overhead Okinawans deserve to know that the situation — as difficult as it is, as difficult as it has been — will not get worse,” she said.
Okinawa has a distinct and vibrant culture: Karate, the world’s most popular martial art, originated in Okinawa, and was derived from the indigenous martial arts of the Ryukyu Islands. And Okinawans are one of the longest-living populations on earth.
“We understand the strategic importance for Japan and the United States to have a strong military presence in the South China Sea. But the people of Okinawa must be treated with respect as partners in this effort — and a commitment to confining the current footprint on the island is a crucial first step toward a more balanced, mutually beneficial relationship. The positive sociological and psychological effect it will have on Okinawans will be life-changing — it will restore hope and confidence,” Wakeman said.
Key facts about the planned U.S. military base at Henoko Bay:
- In 1996, the United States and Japan agreed to close Futenma, a Marine Corps base in Ginowan, Okinawa, after the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen sparked widespread outrage and protests. The agreement was that the base – which the central Japanese government calls one of the “most dangerous airports in the world” because of its location in a densely populated area – would move to a less populated area.
- Years of negotiations led to a compromise plan of moving Futenma to an offshore site at the eastern outskirts of Nago, a move that inspired fierce opposition to the plan from voters in Nago. U.S. and Japanese officials insist that building the V-shaped landfill air base at Henoko is necessary to meet the critical operational requirements of the U.S. Marine Corps and to maintain deterrence, but have not provided compelling evidence to support this contention.
- In 2013, Hirokazu Nakaima, then-governor of Okinawa, dropped his opposition to the planned Henoko base and approved permits for land reclamation at the new site – amid accusations that he was influenced by promises from Japan’s prime minister,Shinzo Abe, to deliver 300 billion yen in annual investment for Okinawa, Japan’s poorest prefecture, through 2021.
- In 2014, Takeshi Onaga defeated Hirokazu Nakaima on an anti-Henoko base platform and becomes governor of Okinawa.
- In September 2015, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga appeals to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, arguing that local opposition to heavy military presence on Okinawa is being ignored by the central Japanese government: “Our right to self-determination and human rights have been neglected.”
- In October 2015, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga revoked an approval for the Henoko landfill work granted by his predecessor,Hirokazu Nakaima, in 2013. In response, Japanese Land Minister Keiichi Ishii announced that the revocation was invalid.
- In November 2015, the central Japanese government filed suit against the local government of Okinawa over the dispute – and the matter is headed to the courts.
- Many prominent scholars have offered alternate plans for the future of the U.S. presence on Okinawa, arguing that consolidation is the correct approach — both for
forthe military’s strategic and logistical needs, and to improve Okinawans’ quality of life. For instance, George Washington University professor Mike Mochizuki is proposing an alternate plan that would not require new offshore construction on Okinawa. This Japan Times article outlines his plan:http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/11/19/national/politics-diplomacy/u-s-professor-proposes-nago-chopper-base-without-runways-ospreys-kept-outside-okinawa/
About Unify for Peace, Ryukyu Islands
Unify for Peace, Ryukyu Islands is a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a diplomatic, long-term resolution that is beneficial to the citizens of the Ryukyu Islands as well as the governments of Japan and the United States. For more information, visit www.unifyforpeace.org.
About Stephanie A. Wakeman, founder, Unify for Peace, Ryukyu Islands
Stephanie A. Wakeman was born in Okinawa in the early 1970s to an Okinawan mother — a member of the Kinjo family, whose origins can be traced to a Shissi (royal advisor) in the Ryukyu Court and Noro (priestess) — and an American father who worked for the Pearl S. Buck Foundation.
With family lineage stretching back centuries on the island, Wakeman is dedicated to preserving Okinawa’s cultural heritage, sharing its unique beauty with a global audience, and creating a prosperous future for the citizens of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands collectively. For more information, visit http://unifyforpeace.org/about-us.
SOURCE Unify for Peace, Ryukyu Islands