Last week, with the world’s eyes focused on the latest terrorist threats to Europe and Africa, 45 activists from the Japanese island of Okinawa came to Washington to demand justice for a country where the US military has held sway since World War II.
The activists represent the All-Okinawa Council, a broad coalition of over 2,000 women’s-rights activists, businessmen, trade unionists, academics, and citizens’ groups formed to stop construction of a new Marine Corps base on an island that already hosts 32 American military installations.
Their message, which was delivered to two dozen lawmakers and the Pentagon, was simple. They want the Obama administration to cancel an agreement with the conservative government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to build the new base on reclaimed land on a coral-rich bay on the northern coast of the Okinawa. Over 80 percent of Okinawans oppose the new base in Henoko, according to recent polls, and they now have the support of the island’s entire elected leadership.
“The military occupation of Okinawa has been the policy of the United States for over 70 years,” Nobutake Yasutomi, an elected member of the Kin town assembly, told me. “For us Okinawans, the ramifications are enormous.” He was disappointed, he added, to see the Obama administration support Abe and the Pentagon against the wishes of the Okinawan people. “This is not the democracy the United States boasts about,” he said.
The opposition movement presents a quandary to the US government, which has been intensifying its military relationship with Japan as part of its “Asia Pivot.” As I wrote at The Nation earlier this year,
The protests in Okinawa are aimed squarely at one of the keystones of American foreign policy in Asia: a forward US base on the Pacific Rim that’s been used since the Korean War to project American power from Vietnam to the Middle East. Okinawa is home to 19,000 US Marines and dozens of US military installations that include the Marines’ only jungle training center.
Last week, a reporter for McClatchy wrote about the stakes for the Marines:
The impasse is so entrenched that the US is preparing to spend $145 million to improve an air base on Okinawa that has been marked for closure since 1996. The money will buy essential repairs to keep safe a fleet of 24 V-22 Osprey planes that cost about $60 million each, said Col. Peter Lee, the base’s commander.