70,000 Demonstrators Protest the Relocation of US Marine Base on Okinawa Island
Almost 70,000 people congregated at Naha City, the capital of Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands to protest the proposed relocation of a US Marine Corps Air Station. The plan is to move the military base from its current site at Futenma in Ginowan City, to Henoko Bay in Nago, an ecologically diverse part of Okinawa which raises environmental concerns. Locals would prefer the base leave the island altogether.
Okinawa is home to dozens of U.S. bases and the United States Forces Japan (USFJ) has 75 percent of its bases on Okinawa. To this extent, 71 percent of U.S. military facilities in Japan are located in Okinawa. The majority of Okinawa’s population says they oppose having another military base in Henoko and have protested the proposal for years.
The military argues that moving the base to Henoko Bay, a less crowded coastal site, would make it less dangerous than its present site in Futenma. But environmentalists contend that relocating the Marine base to its proposed coastal site would be devastating to the bay’s pristine coral reefs and hundreds of endangered species including endangered dugongs.
Okinawans Have No Voice in Militarization of their Island
Braving the rain and threatening typhoon, the demonstrators held a minute silence for Takeshi Onaga, Okinawa’s recently deceased governor. Since he came to power in 2014, Onaga had withstood every move by Japan’s central government to start a landfill project already approved for a new military base by his predecessor.
Onaga was a major opposition figure fighting against the central government, voicing Okinawans choice to not have the military base anywhere on their island. Onaga’s position was that Okinawans should have a voice in their own affairs, as the U.S. militarization of the island was done without any input from Okinawans.
Onaga had filed a lawsuit against the government for repressing the wishes of the people, saying he would repeal his predecessor’s permit for the landfill. Onaga died of cancer in early August, and Deputy Gov. Kiichiro Jahana promised at the rally to uphold Onaga’s plans to revoke permits for the proposed landfill.
The Militarization of Okinawa
Jahana said mainland Japan had always controlled the developmental interests of Okinawa, and Onaga had a “strong determination and passion” to reverse this. Takeharu Onaga, Onaga’s son and legislator in Okinawa, urged the people to continue to fight against the mainland’s dominance of Okinawa and fulfill his “father’s unfinished goal” of not having any military base on the island.
There are nearly 25,000 U.S. troops stationed in Okinawa. The United States presence on Okinawa began when the two countries entered a security treaty in 1960 which permitted the U.S. to station military forces in Okinawa as part of their deterrent efforts in East Asia.
Okinawa has a cultural history independent of Japan as the islands of Okinawa used to be the independent kingdom of the Ryukyus, but the Japanese mainland annexed it in 1878. Okinawa’s location off the coast of Japan means it serves an entry point into Asia and Japan. During World War II the Battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest battles of the war. After Japan surrendered, the U.S. retained control of the island until 1972 when it relinquished control to Japan, but the U.S. bases remained on the island.