Editorial: In the new year, step toward self-reliance together

January 1, 2021 Ryukyu Shimpo


A new year is upon us. The year 2021 will be the time for Okinawa to decide its future direction, as the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japanese rule is nearing.

Fifty years ago, in November 1971, the Ryukyu government drew up a proposal for reintegration measures, which outlined how Okinawa should be after its return to Japan.

Chobyo Yara, who led the reversion movement, clearly stated in the proposal’s introduction section: “Too often Okinawa had become prey to, and was exploited by, state and military base authorities. Okinawa must break free from this position at this turning point in history.”

This was Yara’s declaration that Okinawa will break away from its history of being exploited by the state, including the annexation of Ryukyu, the Battle of Okinawa, and the U.S. occupation; a declaration that Okinawa will not be taken advantage of again. Yara also stated that U.S. military bases are the root of evil, as they violate human rights and disrupt Okinawans’ daily lives. He sought to be freed from the oppression of the Japanese government’s imposition of the bases on Okinawa and guaranteed human rights.

Unfortunately, the current situation is quite the opposite of his vision. The U.S. returned control of Okinawa to Japan in 1972, but even after the reversion, the U.S. continues to freely use its military bases in Okinawa with the Japanese government’s approval.

Pushing forward the construction of the new Henoko base in Nago, against public opposition, is nothing short of a declaration that the U.S. will continue to exploit Okinawa. What was Yara striving for in the 1971 proposal? In the introduction, Yara states that the prefecture’s top priority is the welfare of Okinawans and calls for (1) respect for Okinawan autonomy, (2) pursuit of peace, (3) restoration of human rights under the pacifist constitution, and (4) locally-led economic development.

The proposal asserted that Okinawa would exercise its right to self-determination to create a new prefecture and establish the four pillars. It insisted the Japanese government be held accountable and budget for plans drawn up by Okinawa.

The proposal’s concept differed drastically from the Japanese government’s view that it is the ultimate authority on Okinawa’s promotion and development plans.

However, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party forcibly adopted the Okinawa Reversion Agreement by force of numbers, before the Diet received the proposal. Okinawa’s last appeal was not heard.

Meanwhile, the Act on Special Measures for the Promotion and Development of Okinawa will expire at the end of fiscal 2021. Drafting a new development plan for Okinawa, 50 years after its reversion, is now in full swing. If the central government attempts to use Okinawa’s economic development as a bargaining chip to negotiate military base issues, it must be resolutely rejected. We should not forget that our forefathers refused to be treated as a means by powerful nations half a century ago.

This year, the prefecture will formally propose a new Okinawa development system to the national government. The new plan positions the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as goals for Okinawan development. It makes sense for Okinawa to use the U.N. SDGs framework. Human Rights issues are the bedrock to SDGs, and its aims are already included in Yara’s original proposal.

The key is for Okinawans to become self-reliant in overcoming any issues and come together and take the first step to address challenges. The new year brings new hope to this undertaking.


(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)


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