Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Okinawa's 'wealth with pride' to end economic dependence on military bases

At a study group convened in late June by young Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a lecturer made such statements as “the two Okinawan newspapers must be closed down.” Other participants voiced similar opinions, and there was an excited discussion about cracking down on the media. The ruling party’s wishes have been blatantly exposed, and the party has been subjected to harsh criticism in the Diet as well.

The backdrop to this incident is the ruling party’s annoyance at the protest movement across the Okinawan islands against the construction of a U.S. military base in Henoko in the prefecture.

Since antiquity, Okinawa had been a quiet, independent country. In 1872, however, the Japanese government did away with the Ryukyu Kingdom and changed its name to Ryukyu Domain. Japan annexed the islands by force in 1879, turned them into Okinawa Prefecture and completely abolished the kingdom. These events are called the “Ryukyu purge.”

The recent outrageous remarks by LDP lawmakers are more than an issue about freedom of speech. They represent the LDP’s view of Okinawa as a rebellious “colony” and the party’s prejudiced mind-set.

At a memorial service on the 70th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa, Governor Takeshi Onaga asserted, in the presence of Abe, that Okinawa will “build wealth with pride for the sake of our children and grandchildren who will lead us in the future.” This was a slogan Onaga used in the November 2014 gubernatorial election in which he trounced the candidate backed by the LDP administration.


It was a declaration to abandon an economy reliant on military bases and a statement of intent to turn Okinawa into a bridge of peace oriented toward the rest of Asia. The governor of Okinawa, a place where one in four residents were killed in the fighting in the closing stages of World War II, again questioned its path into the future on the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.

In response to Onaga’s hounding of Abe to “stop the construction work” on the new base in the Henoko area of Nago, the prime minister ignored Onaga’s entreaties and merely pushed for an acceptance of the status quo by disbursing funds in the name of “development.”

Onaga said, “If the people’s freedom, equality, human rights and democracy are not given equal protection, then we cannot build the foundations for peace.”

“In the past and present, Okinawa has never been given equal protection.” “The burden of war is unilaterally forced upon us.”

These are the objections Onaga made at a place dedicated to the more than 200,000 who died in the Battle of Okinawa. They were made in front of Prime Minister Abe, and they showed the governor is ready for a fight.

What exactly is “wealth with pride?” It is a decisive proclamation that Abe’s “development” is a dependence that chains Okinawa to the military bases, and that now is the time to abandon this reliance.

Base-related revenues have already shrunk to the 5 percent range of the prefecture’s total income. It was half immediately after the war’s end, and accounted for 15.5 percent when control of Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972. Yet nowadays, it is only half of the 10 percent earned through tourism.

An oft-cited figure is that Okinawa, which accounts for only 0.6 percent of all of Japan’s land, has 74 percent of U.S. military facilities, and this unreasonableness and discrimination is the heart of the argument by the protest movement against building a base in Henoko. Their message: “We’ve had enough bases.”

The Japanese government is trying to steamroll the construction of the U.S. base in Henoko with the concept of “relocating Air Station Futenma, (which is situated in an urban area and) the most dangerous base in the world.”

The construction of the base in Henoko, however, is an idea that several documents clearly show has been around since 1965. This plan envisions coastal land reclamation to build an airfield and making an adjacent dock for U.S. Navy amphibious assault ships.

America later got bogged down in the Vietnam War, its fiscal situation deteriorated, and it could no longer pay for the construction by itself. Now it is a different story. Japan--nominally to avoid the Futenma air station’s dangers by relocating it to Henoko--will bear the entire burden and give the base to the U.S. Marines.

The “Ryukyu purge” is still ongoing.

By Satoshi Kamata Freelance writer

Born in 1938 in Aomori Prefecture, Satoshi Kamata is a writer who is known for going to the scene of issues that interest him in order to describe what is happening from an up-close perspective. His books have covered labor and social issues, such as pollution. He has been critical of nuclear power generation since the early 1970s.

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