Okinawa is becoming a garrison state for war with China

Sep 12, 2023
Okinawa, Japan viewed from an airplane.

I have come now to the bitter realisation that from no matter what angle you consider it, the Henoko New Base plan has become a ‘solid block of injustice.’” – Urashima Etsuko

Paid little attention either elsewhere in Japan or in countries closely tied to Japan such as Australia, a huge and grossly unequal struggle continues between a Japanese government set on turning Okinawa into a garrison state for war with China, building a network of Japanese and American bases throughout the islands and attaching priority to military over civil policy, and the people of Okinawa intent upon reclaiming sovereignty over their lands and finding a peaceful path towards establishment of an East Asian Community.

This struggle dates from the 1995 rape of a twelve-year old Okinawan girl by three US servicemen. Okinawan shock and anger at the outrage was such that the governments of Japan and the US felt obliged, the following year, to concede that Futenma Marine Air Station, the most egregious US military presence in Okinawa, would be returned to Japan “within five to seven years.” Seven years passed, to 2003, and then twenty more, to 2023, but there was no return. Current estimates are that return will not happen before the mid-2030s, and then only subject to the proviso that Japan should first have constructed and handed over to the US Marine Corps an even larger and more multifunctional military base than the Futenma that was supposedly being replaced.

The Government of Japan decided in 1999 that Henoko, in Northern Okinawa, would be the site of that substitute base, and the decades that followed that decision have been marked by struggle pitting the people of Okinawa against the state of Japan. Despite the blandishments and the pressures applied over decades by the all-powerful nation state, a 2019 plebiscite found Okinawan opposition to the Henoko project continuing at over 70 per cent, and in the latest Okinawan election for Governor in 2022, Tamaki Denny, was re-elected to a third term with a huge (64,000) majority after a campaign that centred on stopping Henoko and recovering Futenma.

The following article was written by Urashima Etsuko, poet, activist, and chronicler of the Okinawan people’s movement, and published in the Okinawan newspaper, Ryukyu Shimpo, on 2 September. Anticipating here the Supreme Court judgement rejecting Okinawa’s case in its latest iteration, issued two days later on 4 September, she calls for Governor Tamaki to say No to the Supreme Court order and to appeal directly to the international community for support of the Okinawan cause.

Tamaki’s initial response suggested he was inclined to do just that. He referred to the court action as one that “nullifies the independent judgement of local governments as well as the essence of local autonomy stipulated in the constitution” and promised there would be “absolutely no change” in the prefecture’s demand for return of Futenma and cancelation of Henoko. (GMcC)

Urashima Etsuko, “The Planned New Military Base at Henoko in Okinawa is a Gigantic Boondoggle,” Ryukyu shimpo, 2 September 2023. Introduced and Translated by Gavan McCormack

Henoko – The resistance continues

More than a quarter century has passed since I began to take part as a local resident in the movement against the construction of a new base at Henoko. The notion of a return of Futenma Base “within five to seven years” [promised in 1996] proved a chimera. Held-up by the overwhelming opposition of not only the local citizens but the Okinawan people as a whole, and by unresolved technical difficulties, the more the government tried to press ahead [with Henoko construction] the slower the engineering works proceeded, till they became “works for the sake of works” and “a nest of vested interests.”

I have come now to the bitter realisation that from no matter what angle you consider it, the Henoko New Base plan has become a “solid block of injustice.”

To take just the major course of events,

1) Ever since the Nago City Plebiscite of 1997, through repeated elections up to the Prefectural Plebiscite of 2019, the government has consistently trampled on the Okinawan people’s clearly expressed opposition to base construction (i.e., on democracy),

2) The Government has consistently intervened to crush prefectural policies designed to protect Okinawan lives and livelihood, human rights, prefectural lands and the nature that is the base on which the survival of the Okinawan people depends.

3) Although Japan, as a state party to the treaty on biodiversity (1992), established a biodiversity strategy (1995) and set targets including at least 30 per cent of its land and sea as protected zones in accordance with the treaty, that same state now pours precious resources into the destruction of the very Oura Bay that specialists from Japan and abroad proclaim a treasure-house of biodiversity.

4) Despite being advised by many experts that for technical, engineering reasons it would be difficult ever to complete the project, the government presses ahead, pouring tax revenue squeezed from the Japanese people into a gigantic boondoggle.

Furthermore, the judiciary supports this utter injustice and endorses whatever the government wishes. In the judicial proceedings over Okinawan Governor Tamaki Denny’s refusal to approve changes to the works design to deal with the soft sea-floor of Oura Bay, the Supreme Court is said to be about to reject the prefecture’s suit. [The Supreme Court ruled to this effect two days later, on 4 September 2023.] Ever since the division of powers was scrapped and the courts merged with the administrative authorities, the prefecture has lost all its suits concerning the Henoko New Base construction, so such an outcome this time comes as no surprise. As experts in administrative law point out, the abuse of state power by which an agency of state such as the Department of Defence represents itself as a private citizen means that the contradictions and absurdities of the Henoko project persist unchanged. Various other suits of similar nature, launched by us residents [of Henoko and its vicinity] are still ongoing.

Following the Court judgement on 4 September, later in the same month Governor Tamaki Denny is to attend and address the United Nations Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva. In 2015, his predecessor, Onaga Takeshi, addressed the same body saying that “[the Okinawan people’s] human rights and rights to self-determination are being treated as if they did not exist.” The situation today is much worse than it was then.

I urge Governor Tamaki not to submit to this unjust judgement but to plead openly before the forthcoming UN forum on behalf of Okinawan human rights and civil rights. We, the Okinawan people, will do our utmost to support such a stand. We will reclaim the human rights and civil rights encroached upon by the Japanese state.

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