Henoko base to go ahead

The newspapers in Okinawa are full of the story of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s visit to the island yesterday when he met again with Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima. The Prime Minister’s purpose was to apologise to Okinawa for his failure to live up to his pre-election promise to rid the island of the Futenma US military air base. Instead he confirmed what has already been on the cards for months – that the Japanese government is going to agree to move the base from Ginowan but only to a new base on the same island, to be built on the Nago coast at Henoko. Apart from some minor tinkering with the details, this is almost identical to the original plan made in 2006. The Okinawa Times devotes five pages to the visit, and includes a news item on musician/politician Shoukichi Kina who is opposed to the relocation of the base within Okinawa.

 The news comes as a huge disappointment – but is also entirely predictable. Once again Japan has betrayed the people of Okinawa. The streets surrounding the prefectural government office in Naha were lined with protesters holding banners with anti-base slogans as Hatoyama was driven speedily past them and then whisked into the office for his meeting with the governor. Later he also met Nago mayor Susumu Inamine who was reported by the Japan Times newspaper as telling him: “I can’t hide my rage at the new Japan-US accord as it betrays the sentiment of people in Nago and Okinawa. As Nago mayor I express my firm opposition…Nago needs no new base.” Hatoyama cites “remaining uncertainties in East Asia” as the reason for the government’s decision and a final announcement is expected within the next few days.

Perhaps the only good thing to come out of this mess is that at long last the people of mainland Japan have (if only to some extent) become aware of the problems that hosting US bases entails. There have been so many protests in Okinawa, and the issue has dragged on for such a long time, that even mainland Japanese have finally had to take some notice.

People gather in Yomitan, Okinawa last month to protest

My own view on the base issue has been expressed here before, but I have to add that I believe the presence of all US military bases in Okinawa has little or nothing to do with the protection of Japan or with keeping the peace in East Asia – even if such an aim could be achieved through the contradiction of hosting thousands of armed forces who are trained to kill and destroy. The purpose of the American presence is surely more to do with the US government wanting to extend its power and control over as much of the world as possible…and happily for them the Japanese are paying for it. As troops are flown from bases in Okinawa to fight American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it must be sad indeed for those Okinawan survivors who can still remember the horrors of the Battle of Okinawa. They could never have imagined that they would still be living on an occupied island 65 years later.

 Kamadu are a group of women who live and work near Futenma base. They took part in the anti-base protest last month when over 90,000 gathered in Yomitan. It is worth quoting from their protest literature which outlines the situation very well: “Ever since World War II our parents and grandparents have struggled to get rid of these bases, without success. That is because most of the 99% who live in the mainland, through their indifference, have forced the bases on Okinawa. So long as the Japan-US Security Treaty remains in force, our demand is that the bases be moved to the mainland, and that the people who support that treaty should bear the burden that comes with it, and if they find the burden too heavy, reconsider their support.”

 “Okinawa was once an independent country, and was made a part of Japan only in the late 19th century. Its form of governance, its society, its culture, its language were all Japanized, and during World War II it became a battleground for Japan and the US, where between one quarter and one third of our population was killed. After that it was kept under direct US military rule for 27 years. In 1972 it was turned over to Japanese rule again, but the bases-first policy has remained unchanged. Still today Okinawa is being sacrificed for the sake of the US and Japanese bases. We protest against this dual colonial rule of Japan and the US…….We want neither to be victims or assailants. We desire freedom, equality, and peace.”

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