Foster prosperity in Okinawa by reducing its base-related burdens

The tremendous sacrifice borne by Okinawa in the war must be taken seriously anew, and the burdens that it still shoulders must be shared. The central government needs to make every possible effort to support Okinawa’s stability and prosperity.

The Okinawa Memorial Service for All War Dead was held on June 23, Okinawa Memorial Day, which is considered the ending date of organized combat by the former Japanese military in the Battle of Okinawa during the Pacific War’s final days.

A total of more than 200,000 Japanese and Americans were killed in a series of land battles involving local residents, and gunfire from U.S. warships, dubbed the “Typhoon of Steel.” It is a day to reflect on the many lives sacrificed in the war and the suffering that continued in Okinawa even long after the war.

In his speech at the memorial service in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, “The peace and prosperity we enjoy is based on the precious sacrifices of those who lost their lives and the history of hardship in Okinawa.” Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was the first time in three years for a prime minister to attend the memorial service.

Local volunteers organized an unprecedented 12-day session to read the names of each of the war dead inscribed on the Cornerstone of Peace monument in Itoman. It is hoped that such efforts to pass on memories of the war to coming generations will continue without allowing them to fade away.

About 70% of all land for the exclusive use of U.S. military facilities in Japan is still concentrated in Okinawa Prefecture. The current situation, which imposes excessive burdens on a certain region for the sake of national security, must be corrected. The central government needs to make steady efforts to promote the consolidation and reduction of U.S. military bases and relocate training sites to other parts of Japan.

The central and prefectural governments are at odds over the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station from Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko area in Nago in the prefecture.

However, the decision to relocate the Futenma base to the Henoko area, reached through negotiations between Japan and the United States and based on Okinawa Prefecture’s request, is of great significance. The only realistic option for eliminating the dangers associated with the Futenma base is to relocate it to the Henoko area.

Undermining the foundation of the Japan-U.S. security system is in the interest of neither Okinawa nor the rest of the country.

In May this year, 50 years after its return to Japanese sovereignty, the prefectural government decided on a new plan to promote Okinawa. Soon after, the central government announced its own plan to promote Okinawa. This “vision for Okinawa” is a strategy to realize a strong local economy compiled by Kosaburo Nishime, minister of state for Okinawa and northern territories affairs.

However, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki expressed dissatisfaction with the central government’s concept, stating, “As there was no prior inquiry [into the concept], I felt the announcement was too abrupt.” The current situation, in which the central and prefectural governments lack mutual communications, is regrettable.

In the 1990s, the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto worked to consolidate and reduce U.S. military bases in Okinawa. The Cabinet of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi decided to hold a summit of the Group of Eight major nations in Okinawa Prefecture. Many members of the Diet exerted themselves for the sake of the future of Okinawa.

As the number of people in generations with firsthand knowledge of the war decreases, politicians involved in policies for Okinawa are required to have a deeper understanding of its history and reality. Kishida should continue dialogue with the prefecture and build a relationship of trust.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2022)