While most observers view the “Okinawa Problem” as one of U.S. military bases, it actually involves the colonial history of the Ryukyu islands and the violation of the Okinawans’ rights as an indigenous people.
On June 16, Okinawans gathered in a 65,000 strong protest rally demanding the withdrawal of the U.S. Marine Corps. Organized as a response to the murder of a 20-year Okinawan girl by a former U.S. marine officer, the rally presents the latest episode of the “Okinawa Problem.”
Okinawa hosts 74 percent of all U.S. military bases in Japan, although it only constitutes 0.6 percent of Japanese territory. Many Okinawans have been demanding the removal of these bases since the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three American servicemen in 1995. Very few observers, however, realize the Okinawa Problem is not just about the military bases, but it takes into account of the colonial history of the Okinawans as an indigenous people. (more…)Continue Reading →
With both Japan and the United States unlikely to soon seek new solutions to the stalled relocation of the Futenma air station in Okinawa, progress might be better achieved through discussions by nongovernmental experts, according to a U.S. analyst.
The existing plan to transfer the Futenma base from a crowded residential district in Ginowan to the less-populated coastal area of Henoko within Okinawa is “becoming politically infeasible” amid continued opposition from the local community, said George Washington University professor Mike Mochizuki.
“To push it stubbornly will lead to negative consequences for the U.S.-Japan alliance,” added Mochizuki, who has been studying the issue since 1995.
However, under the current circumstances, neither the Japanese government nor U.S. officials are likely to come up with an alternative option to the agreement reached in 2006. This is where nongovernmental experts should come into the picture, he said.Continue Reading →
In our previous blog post, we examined Asian reactions to the economic aspects of America’s “pivot” back to Asia strategy. Today’s post looks at what China, India, and Japan are saying about the geopolitical implications of US plans to strengthen its presence in Asia.
Official commentary specifically on this topic was expressed by the Foreign Ministry spokesperson during a regular press briefing: “In handling Asia-Pacific affairs, one should comply with the basic trend of peace, development and cooperation upheld by regional countries, and respect the diversity and complexity of the region.”
Similarly, the press has stressed China’s commitment to peaceful development and coexistence with neighbors. Commentaries characterize US intentions as reflecting a “Cold War mentality” aiming to encircle China, then explain why such plans are likely to fail:
- In general, the entire region is suspicious of US motives. An article in the People’s Daily says Asian countries are “unlikely to approve of the US attempt to impose its values on them or the so-called ‘leadership’ it aspires to exercise in Asia.”
- Specific countries such as Australia cannot be counted on either, because Australia [is] currently swaying between China and the US,” says a Global Times editorial. Li Hongmei, editor of the People’s Daily Online, also cites a former Australian defense official who said the plan “was a very risky move” for his country.
- Economically, strategic encirclement of China is not truly possible because of Chinese economic clout. “Any country which chooses to be a pawn in the US chess game will lose the opportunity to benefit from China’s economy. This will surely make US protection less attractive.“
- China may also retaliate economically at neighboring countries, such as the Philippines, for cooperating militarily with the US. The Philippines is “walking a very fine line,” warned a Global Timeseditorial that recommended economic “punishment” such as postponing the implementation of investment agreements and decreasing imports from the Philippines. In the meantime, “China should enhance cooperation with countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, allowing them to benefit more from the Philippine vacuum.”
For reactions by Chinese netizens, the Dutch nonprofit foundation Global Voices has a report here.
Across the board, commentary in India is welcoming of America’s plan to strengthen its presence in Asia, and sees this renewed attention on the region as a chance for India to assert its strategic role. (more…)Continue Reading →
Since Yoshihiko Noda took office as Prime Minister of Japan two months ago, there appears to be some possibility that the United States and Japan will be able to make progress on the stalled issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa prefecture. However, even cautious optimism should be tempered by the reality of domestic politics in Japan and a thorough consideration of Japan’s overall strategic thinking.
Noda has made specific gestures expressing an intent to honor the U.S.-Japan agreement to relocate the Futenma base from densely populated Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago City in northeastern Okinawa, where a new on-shore facility would be built. To win political support from Okinawans, he announced in late September that his government would remove the conditions currently attached to development subsidies to the prefecture. In October, he told visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that the government would submit an environmental impact assessment report to Okinawa prefecture by the end of this year, which would formally start a legal process whereby the Okinawa government is required to respond within 90 days. From Washington’s perspective, these moves may indicate some long-awaited momentum on the Futenma issue.
Opposition and skepticism in Japanese domestic politics
However, the official message coming from Tokyo stands in stark contrast to the local opposition in Okinawa, which has grown stronger and more vocal over the years. Just days after Panetta’s visit, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima told Noda that the Futenma relocation within the prefecture was “virtually impossible.” In a recent speech delivered at The George Washington University, Nakaima stressed the intolerable impact of Futenma on the daily lives of Okinawans, and compared it to having a military base in the middle of New York City on 36th Street. Added to this is the sense of unfairness of having to bear the lion’s share of U.S. military presence in Japan: Okinawa comprises only 0.6% of Japan’s national land mass, but hosts 74% of American facilities in Japan.
While there is nothing new about local opposition to U.S. military basing in Okinawa, observers note that it has dramatically strengthened in the past few years that the Democratic Party of Japan has been in government. (more…)Continue Reading →