Okinawa marks 50th anniversary of end of US rule in protests

TOKYO – Okinawa Prefecture Governor Danny Tamaki on Sunday urged Japan’s central government to do more to reduce the U.S. military presence in the southern island group as it marks the 50th anniversary of its return to Japan after 27 years of U.S. rule. The disappointment and suffering of the island nation of Okinawa lacks mainland support.

Okinawa has come a long way since the devastation of World War II and nearly 30 years of American rule ended when it returned to Japan on May 15, 1972, Tamaki said. But the small island nation has been asking the mainland to share its security burden for years.

“I call on the central government to share with the entire country the importance of Okinawa’s return and the lasting peace that Okinawans have long longed for,” Tamaki said.

The anniversary ceremony took place simultaneously at two locations – one in Joe Bay, Okinawa City, the site of the controversial American Air Terminal, and the other in Tokyo. The different ceremonies symbolize deep divisions over Okinawa’s history and ongoing suffering.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he took Okinawa’s concerns seriously and would work to ease the burden while still maintaining U.S. military deterrence on the island.

Kishida and his minister in charge of the islands were in Okinawa, where hundreds of protesters rallied on Saturday to demand faster cuts in U.S. troops amid growing fears that Okinawa could be the front line of a conflict in escalating tensions with China.

More protests took place in Okinawa on Sunday, including one in Naha, the prefectural capital, where nearly 1,000 people reiterated their demands for peace.

Okinawa is deeply unhappy and frustrated by the large U.S. presence and Tokyo’s lack of efforts to negotiate with Washington to balance the security burden between mainland Japan and the southern island group.

Because of America. Okinawa officials and residents say bases in Okinawa face the burden of noise, pollution, accidents and crime associated with the U.S. military.

Adding to Okinawa’s concerns is Japan’s growing missile defense and amphibious capabilities on Okinawa’s outer islands, including the islands of Ishigaki, Miyako and Yonaguni near geopolitical hotspots such as Taiwan.

Okinawa was one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, killing some 200,000 people, nearly half of them Okinawan residents.

Experts say Okinawa was sacrificed by Imperial Japanese troops to defend the mainland, and many Okinawans doubt that Japanese troops will protect them in future conflicts.

Until 1972, because of Okinawa’s strategic importance to Pacific security as a deterrent to Russia and communism, U.S. troops were stationed on the island group for 20 years longer than most of Japan.

Many Okinawans had hoped that the return of the islands to Japan would improve economic and human rights conditions and ease basic burdens.

Today, of the 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan under bilateral security treaties, most and 70 percent of their military installations are still in Okinawa, which occupies only 0.6 percent of Japan’s territory. The burden has increased from less than 60 percent in 1972 as unpopular U.S. bases moved from the mainland.

In an online speech at the Palace of Tokyo, Emperor Naruhito acknowledged that “many problems” remain in Okinawa and said “I hope that people, including the younger generation, will have a better understanding of Okinawa.”

His abdicating father, Akihito, who was bent on repairing the scars of the war fought in his father Hirohito’s name, was nearly hit by a Molotov cocktail during a visit as crown prince in 1975, but he continued to show a special interest in Okinawa.

U.S. President Joe Biden, who is due to visit Japan next week, praised the strong U.S.-Japan alliance and its shared values ​​and vision.

“I am very grateful for Japan’s unwavering support for democracy, freedom, and the rule of law, and Okinawa’s contribution to advancing these ideals,” Biden said in a statement.

The biggest sticking point between Okinawa and Tokyo is the central government’s insistence on relocating the U.S. naval base Futenma Air Station in a crowded area to Okinawa, rather than moving it elsewhere, as many Okinawans demand.

Tokyo and Washington initially agreed to close the station in 1996, following a massive anti-al Qaeda campaign following the rape of a schoolgirl by three U.S. military personnel in 1995.

Tamaki filed a petition in early May with the Kishida government and the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, calling for significant reductions in U.S. troops in Okinawa, the immediate closure of the Futenma base, and the cancellation of a new base at Henoko.

Okinawa’s economic, educational and social development lags behind as Japan’s post-war economic surge benefited from lower defense spending by the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.

The central government’s development funds since the handover have improved Okinawa’s infrastructure, but the growth of the local industry, which was severely hampered during U.S. rule, is still largely limited to tourism.

Today, Okinawa has the lowest average household income and the highest unemployment rate of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Tamaki recently said that if U.S.-occupied land was returned to the prefecture for other uses, Okinawa’s revenue would be three times what the island now earns from the base.

Authorities in Okinawa routinely face U.S. denials in criminal and environmental investigations.


This story corrects the location of the Okinawa ceremony to Ginowan rather than the capital of Naha prefecture.

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