Onaga-Kennedy Meeting: We Call for Unconditional Closure of Futenma–Don’t Treat Okinawa as a Colony

Yoshikazu Shiohira, Editor-in-Chief of the Ryukyu Shimpo

Governor Takeshi Onaga and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy will hold their first meeting on June 19.

We hope the two leaders to engage in frank debate in order to achieve unconditional closure of U.S. Marine Air Station Futenma and halt the construction of a new U.S. base at Henoko, Nago. At the same time, we hope they will discuss how to find a path to end the de facto colonial state of Okinawa and achieve democracy in Okinawa as soon as possible.

While Japan regained its sovereignty and became an independent nation after the conclusion of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which came into effect on April 28, 1952, Okinawa was separated from the rest of Japan and continued to suffer under the rule of the United States.

It is a well-known fact that the lives and human rights of Okinawan people have been threatened by the U.S. forces. The U.S. military has destroyed houses and seized land from the people using “bayonets and bulldozers.” Incidents and accidents involving the U.S. military have occurred repeatedly.

The governments of Japan and the United States continuously claim to champion democracy, freedom, fundamental human rights and the rule of law. However, such universal values are under threat in Okinawa.

‘Henoko’ is a symbolic place that represents Okinawa’s current situation, because universal values are neglected there.

Government officials have cracked down violently on peaceful protesters opposing the construction of the new U.S. base. Underwater drilling by the government has damaged coral reefs and feeding sites of the dugong, an endangered species. State power has bared its fangs to residents and to the natural environment in Okinawa.

There is no other place like Okinawa in the rest of Japan or the United States.

Government leaders in Japan and the United States have emphasized that the dangers arising from the Futenma base should be eliminated by relocating it to Henoko as soon as possible. Closing the Futenma base is an urgent priority. We fully agree with this claim.

However, the majority of people in Okinawa are opposed to the construction of a new base at Henoko. They know that the construction of the Futenma base was in contradiction to the Hague Convention, because the actions of the U.S. forces violated Article 46 of the convention, which states that private property cannot be confiscated under military occupation.

Officials of Japan and the United States have turned a blind eye to these facts and chosen to ignore them. It is a contravention of justice to proceed with the construction of the new base.

Nearly a year and a half has passed since U.S. Ambassador Kennedy assumed her post in Tokyo. We think the ambassador has learned about Okinawa’s modern history, in which Okinawa has been at the mercy of great powers such as Japan and the United States, and about the current situation in which the U.S. military exercises the right to free use of bases on Okinawa; a privilege granted by an unequal treaty, the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

We want to ask the United States government how to end the colonial situation in Okinawa that has continued since the end of World War II and how to correct the injustice that 70 percent of the U.S. military exclusive-use facilities in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa.

It is time for U.S. Ambassador Kennedy to send a clear message to the Okinawan people.

The ceremony for the Okinawan Memorial Day, known as “Irei no Hi” in Japanese, will be held on June 23. It will mark 70 years since the end of the war.

The Cornerstone of Peace, which is located at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, commemorates the sacrifice of all those who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa. The names of all the deceased are engraved on the monument, regardless of which side they were on.

U.S. President Bill Clinton promised to reduce the footprint of U.S. forces in Okinawa when he visited the Cornerstone of Peace during the G8 summit held in Okinawa in 2000. He was concerned about the excessive burden of U.S. forces on Okinawa.

However, the promise of President Clinton has yet to be fulfilled.
The latest opinion poll conducted by the Ryukyu Shimpo showed 83 percent of respondents opposed to relocation of the Futenma base within the prefecture.

A full 87 percent of respondents expressed a desire to expand the right to self-determination so that Okinawans themselves can decide on matters concerning Okinawa.

Government officials of Japan and the United States should once again learn the lesson from post-war history that security policy will encounter difficulties when it faces hostility from local residents.

They should listen carefully to the public will of Okinawa.

Governor Onaga showed his intention to change Okinawa from a military keystone to a buffer zone for peace at his press conferences in Tokyo and in his lobbying of government officials during his visit the United States.

That is a common desire of Okinawan residents, who endured hardship both during the war and after it ended.

The meeting between Governor Onaga and Ambassador Kennedy will be held during deliberations on security-related bills in the Japanese House of Representatives Special Committee. The bills will allow Japan to exercise of the right to collective self-defense and dispatch the Self-Defense Forces overseas.

Japan stands at a crossroads–whether to rush to arms expansion to further strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance against the so-called threat of China, or whether to choose diplomatic dialogue between Japan, the United States and China to reduce arms and troops.

We want Governor Onaga and Ambassador Kennedy to engage in discussion of the fundamental nature of security without being tied down by preconceived notions.

During his visit to the U.S., Governor Onaga strongly criticized the Abe administration for forcefully pushing forward with construction of the new U.S. base at Henoko against the will of Okianwa. He told reporters that forcing through the relocation plan is a negation of democracy, saying that the Abe administration’s “proactive pacifism” will be reduced to an empty slogan.

Peace studies posits the concept of “positive peace.” This concept is similar to, but not the same as, the proactive pacifism advocated by Prime Minister Abe.

The latter concept will become a driving force to transform Japan’s security policy to allow the exercise of the right to collective self-defense and to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces overseas. The former concept, “positive peace,” aims to eliminate such structural violence as threats to human rights and safety, especially pertaining to poverty, oppression, discrimination and disease.

It will be difficult to achieve a “positive peace” absent of the structural violence brought about by the military alliance.

We hope this meeting will be a starting point to correct the current overemphasis on military engagement and to move toward a magnanimous U.S.-Japan relationship that respects human dignity and safety.

(English version translated and edited by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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