EDITORIAL: 43 years on, Okinawa still forced to serve mainland's interest
May 15 marked the anniversary of Okinawa’s return to Japan 43 years ago. Never has the anniversary arrived amid such acute tension between Okinawa Prefecture and the central government.
Flying in the face of strong opposition from many people in Okinawa, the Abe administration is forging ahead with preparations for the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the crowded city of Ginowan to the Henoko area of Nago, another city in the island prefecture.
The government and Japan’s mainlanders should heed the voices of Okinawa, which has been pivotal to the support of national security since the end of World War II in 1945 by bearing the heavy burden of hosting the vast bulk of U.S. military bases in this country. The Japanese people should not allow Okinawa to become isolated.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, met separately with Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga in April and May for the first time since Onaga came to office in December. The three top government officials refused to hold talks with Onaga until then.
Onaga’s remarks about Okinawa’s postwar history made in those meetings underscored Okinawa’s determination to reject the Futenma relocation plan.
Onaga talked about how the U.S. military, when it governed Okinawa before its reversion to Japan, seized local people’s land forcibly to build bases by using “bayonets and bulldozers.”
The Okinawa governor also spoke about Paul Caraway, the high commissioner of the U.S. Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands during the early 1960s, who once declared that Okinawan self-government is nothing but a legend.
Onaga also referred to the 1956 U.S. attempt for an effective blanket purchase of the local land leased for bases, made in line with what is known as the “Price Recommendations” by Rep. Melvin Price, who chaired a special subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee.
Onaga’s words awakened bitter memories about these historical facts that still linger in the minds of the people in Okinawa and highlighted parallels between these incidents and the Abe administration’s approach to the Futenma issue.
Onaga’s remarks expressed anger about how the central government has continued to ignore Okinawa’s determined opposition to the base relocation plan, which was made clear in three elections last year--the Nago mayoral election, the gubernatorial poll and the Lower House election. They also indicated that Okinawa’s actions against the administration’s efforts to carry out the plan are similar in nature to Okinawa’s fight for the right of self-government under U.S. military rule.
In his meeting with Nakatani, Onaga recounted an episode about his discussions on the issue with an Upper House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party two years ago when he was the mayor of Naha. Onaga severely criticized the mainland’s mind-set by telling Nakatani that the LDP politician said Okinawa should accept the new base because the mainland refused to accept it. The LDP lawmaker also said to Onaga, “Let us stop futile discussions.”
It is notable that the series of meetings between Onaga and the top administration officials have aroused sympathy for Okinawa among the Japanese public.
In a clutch of opinion polls recently conducted by The Asahi Shimbun and other media, more respondents than before expressed critical views about the administration’s stance toward the issue.
The mainland public’s interest in the problem appears to be growing, as indicated by internationally acclaimed animation director Hayao Miyazaki’s decision to co-head a fund set up by prefectural assembly members and local businesses to protest the plan to move the air base to Henoko.
Onaga plans to make his case to a broad international audience, including the U.S. government.
Okinawa’s wish to be treated equally as the mainland has been consistently denied, even after its return to Japan.
Chobyo Yara, the last chief executive of the government of the Ryukyu Islands under U.S. administration and the first governor of the prefecture after the return of Okinawa, once said. “Okinawa must not be victimized again as a means of the state.”
One serious question Japanese mainlanders should ask themselves now is whether they are again trying to victimize Okinawa for the mainland’s interests.