TOKYO (Reuters), – Okinawa, a Japanese island chain, celebrated the 50th Anniversary of U.S. Occupation and Japan’s return with celebrations and ceremonies amid rising concern over their closeness to China.
Okinawa was a chain of islands in the far southwest Japan, near Tokyo. It suffered huge devastation during World War Two. A third of Okinawa’s population was killed in bloody battles between U.S. troops and Japanese soldiers over two months. Nearly thirty years of U.S. control followed.
The islands were returned to Japan on May 15, 1972 in a positive step towards overcoming the painful war legacy. Today, however, they are still home to the majority U.S. military base in Japan. This bargain has brought jobs and also increased concerns over crime and accidents.
As China asserts itself in the Pacific and tensions rise surrounding Taiwan (which Beijing regards as a renegade provincial), Okinawans worry that they might once again find themselves on the frontlines, especially with Russia’s invasion Ukraine.
A protester said, “These are tiny islands,” on Miyako Island, which is home to Japan’s new army base. She declined to identify herself.
Building a military base won’t protect them, but will make them an attack target.”
Fumio Kishida the Prime Minister will be present at ceremonies that commemorate Okinawa’s handover. The Emperor Naruhito, who will speak via videolink from Tokyo, will comment on the proceedings.
Okinawans are well-aware of their disapproval at having to carry the heavy burden of hosting military bases. In March polling by NHK, public broadcaster NHK found that 56% of 812 Okinawans strongly disagreed with U.S. bases. Only 25% of the 1,115 outside prefecture agreed.
Tensions may rise due to the fact that legislators for the Liberal Democratic Party have declared they desire more defense spending. They also want missiles that are capable of striking targets on foreign ground – such as those that could be deployed to Okinawa. The country has been revising their national security strategy for the past year.
Denny Tamaki (Okinawa governor) would prefer to reduce the footprint of Okinawa’s bases, although plans to relocate some Okinawa bases, as well as sending Marines to Guam are slowly moving forward.