05/16/2022, 12.41
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Okinawa: Protests against US bases in 50th year

by Guido Alberto Casanova

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the island's return to Japan. But residents continue to oppose the U.S. military presence in Futemna, whose complete closure they demand. Prefectural governor delivers some proposals to central government: situation "abnormal."



Okinawa (AsiaNews) - Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Okinawa's return under Japan's sovereignty. Occupied by the Allies during World War II, the prefecture was administered by the U.S. until 1972. In the half-century since then, however, relations between the people of the southern prefecture and the government of Japan have been marked by many misunderstandings, especially regarding the continued existence of U.S. military bases on the island.

Although polls indicate that 94 percent of Okinawans look favorably on the return under Japanese sovereignty, 55 percent consider themselves dissatisfied with the course of events since then, and the primary reason for this dissatisfaction is precisely related to the U.S. garrisons.

Okinawa Prefecture represents 0.6 percent of the national territory, but it hosts 70 percent of the Japanese land granted exclusively to the U.S. military. A disproportion that has never gone unnoticed in the eyes of locals. 61 percent of them believe the U.S. military presence in Okinawa should be reduced and only 19 percent believe the bases should remain as they are. The distance in perception from the central government is well evident when considering that the national percentages on decreasing and maintaining bases on the island are 46 percent and 41 percent instead.

Okinawa's governor, Danny Tamaki, is the most well-known face of this decades-long battle by residents. For the past few months, local authorities have been trying to block the relocation of the U.S. Futenma base from the town of Ginowan to the less densely populated (but still on the island of Okinawa) area of Henoko.

Against this attempt, the Minister of Lands issued an order in late April to force Tamaki to approve work on relocating the base. However, the project is widely unpopular in Okinawa, and in 2019 a local referendum on the matter had seen the triumph of the opponents with 75 percent of the vote. These days, Jinshiro Motoyama, promoter of that referendum, has announced a hunger strike to protest the government's decision: the well-known activist is calling for the closure of the Futenma base.

Opposition to moving the base is just one of the questions the local government wants to bring to Tokyo's attention. Last week Tamaki presented his own plan to create a future of "peace and prosperity." The document according to the governor echoes the spirit of proposals made in 1971 for Okinawa's return to Japan, including that of an island without military bases. "The fact that Okinawa hosts 70 percent of all U.S. bases in Japan is absolutely abnormal and has not changed in 50 years," Tamaki said.

Among the governor's proposals is a review of the agreement with the U.S. on the permanence of military personnel (signed in 1960 and never amended) that grants broad protection to U.S. citizens from prosecution for violations of Japanese law.

On May 10, Tamaki traveled to Tokyo and delivered his proposals to Premier Fumio Kishida and U.S. Ambassador Rahm Emanuel. The response of the authorities, however, seems to have been cool. On the issue of base relocation, Chief of Staff Matsuno Hirokazu said that the one under discussion is "the only solution." On the 50th anniversary, "I don't think we are in a situation where we can celebrate," Motoyama said.

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