Okinawa governor pleads for peace and reduced US military presence in Japan

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki visits Camp Kinser, a Marine Corps base in Okinawa, Jan. 31, 2019. (Nicole Rogge/US Marine Corps)

TOKYO — With war and war talk once again familiar across two continents, the world must pause and consider more peaceful methods of resolving its differences, Okinawa’s elected leader said Friday.

“Looking at the tragic events happening in Ukraine right now, I have the feeling that there is nothing more cruel, indeed, than war,” the governor of the prefecture said. Denny Tamaki during an appearance before the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Okinawa was the scene of the last major battle of World War II, a three-month fight in 1945 that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of combatants and civilians. Today, Russia continues its 2.5-month-old invasion of Ukraine, while US and Chinese warships keep pace with exercises on the seas not far from Okinawa.

“In order to ensure that the tragedy of the Battle of Okinawa does not happen again, a battle described as disastrous and having brought together all forms of hell, it is necessary to make use of the wisdom that humanity has acquired at great expense, said Tamaki, speaking virtually from Okinawa, through a translator.

Okinawa is doing its part by providing housing for displaced Ukrainians and other forms of support, he said.

“It’s times like these that we really need to have that mutual support which will also lead to the mutual development of each of our countries,” Tamaki said.

He addressed the club ahead of the 50th anniversary of the return of Okinawa to Japan by the United States, which administered the island’s prefecture for 21 years under the 1951 treaty that officially ended the Allied occupation of Japan. Okinawa returned to Japanese rule on May 15, 1972.

However, the continued presence of US military bases is hampering development in the prefecture, Tamaki said. He objects to their scale and opposes the construction of a new airfield in the rural district of Henoko to replace the Marine Corps airbase in the heart of Ginowan town.

Japanese security guards separate from the protest crowd for U.S. service members to leave Camp Schwab, a Marine Corps base in Okinawa, March 31, 2015.

Japanese security guards separate from the protest crowd for U.S. service members to leave Camp Schwab, a Marine Corps base in Okinawa, March 31, 2015. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

The Japanese government supports the new airfield at Camp Schwab, a marine infantry base in northern Okinawa. But Tokyo is also contributing $3 billion toward the construction of Camp Blaz, a nearly $9 billion new marine base in Guam where some units from Okinawa will be relocated.

Tamaki acknowledged young Okinawans are generally less interested in the base issue, but said they were behind a 2019 referendum that found substantial opposition to the construction of the replacement airfield. .

Results of a Kyodo News poll released on Thursday found that 80% of all Japanese people polled thought Okinawa bore more than its share of the US military presence.

Fifty years ago, Tamaki said, “Okinawa Prefecture has sought to become an island of peace and no bases. However, even today, despite the fact that Okinawa is a prefecture with only 0.6% of Japanese territory, it is home to 70.3% of the total area dedicated to the US military.

That presence creates challenges, from aircraft noise to the tie-up of goods and labor that could benefit Okinawa’s economy, he said. Personal income remains at around 70% of that of Japan as a whole, and one in three children live in poverty, he said.

Reducing the base footprint would allow business development to triple the 5% overall revenue provided by the US presence, Tamaki said. Employment, too, would rise from the 9,000 jobs provided to Okinawans by the US military to around 80,000 jobs in other sectors, he said.

“Furthermore, more than 60 years have passed since the conclusion of the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA,” Tamaki said. SOFA outlines the rights and responsibilities of U.S. military forces and the civilians and families accompanying them to Japan.

“And yet it hasn’t been changed once during that time,” he said. “This agreement does not respond to today’s demands or to the needs of the people in the context of contemporary awareness of human rights and environmental issues.”

Tamaki spoke for 10 minutes and answered another 50 questions. He described plans for Okinawa as the digital hub of the Asia-Pacific economy and spoke about Japan’s general alignment with the United States on security issues and its support for the presence American over Okinawa’s objections.

Japan, whose postwar constitution renounced all offensive military power, relies on its 70-year-old alliance with the United States and its armed forces in the country as protection against regional security threats. . Although the pacifist section of the Japanese Constitution is sometimes questioned, it remains essentially intact, despite Japan’s record spending on its self-defense forces.

Okinawa is close to the Miyako Strait, a key passage from the East China Sea to the Pacific Ocean. It is also less than 300 miles from the Senkakus, a group of uninhabited islets whose possession by Japan is disputed by China.

Okinawa is also less than 400 miles from Taiwan, which Chinese President Xi Jinping says should one day be reclaimed by the mainland. The United States, and by extension Japan, could be drawn into a conflict over either territory.

“When we look at the tensions between the United States and China, it really shouldn’t be answered with deterrence alone,” Tamaki said. “That is, indeed, why we need these new efforts to ease these kinds of tensions.”

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