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Okinawa inundated with US military bases

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Military Base, Okinawa. Getty Images

Okinawa, a Japanese island in the western Pacific Ocean, was the scene of one of the fiercest battles of the Pacific War.

It has marked the 50th anniversary of the end of US occupation, and it's return to Japanese sovereignty after 27 years of US rule.

Okinawa returned to Japan on May 15 1972. However, the island chain still hosts the majority of American military bases in Japan.

It hosts about 70% of all US military bases in Japan, and more than half of its 47,000 troops.

Many Japanese people, particularly Okinawans, are against the continued heavy American military presence and are protesting to draw attention to the issue.

Far from being reduced, as people in Okinawa demand, the US military bases have even been strengthened instead, we hope that our protest will help people in the prefecture, and in other places, realise the seriousness of the issue.

Protestor 1

The presence of US troops in Japan is not in any way intended to protect Japanese citizens, but a part of US military strategy. Frequent incidents caused and crimes committed by US troops in Japan only make Okinawa more dangerous.

Protestor 2

Hundreds of protesters from across Japan have the stage rallies in Okinawa, demanding a reduction of US military forces in the prefecture.  More than one thousand people from Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as Okinawa held an indoor gathering to call for peace and to oppose US military bases.

Japanese locals on Okinawa have already been expressing serious opposition to the presence of US forces on the island. A poll by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and Okinawan media organisations found that 61% of local people wanted fewer US bases on the island, while only 19% said they were happy with the status quo.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, who promised to make a greater effort to reduce hosting US military bases in the region, also acknowledged the issue as well as the economic inequalities that still make Okinawa one of the country's poorest areas.

50 years have passed since Okinwa's return to Japan and the people of Okinawa endure very heavy burden from the US bases. The government takes this very seriously and will continue to do their utmost to reduce the burden from the bases.

Fumio Kishida, Japanese Prime Minister

The string of tropical islands located in the far southwest of Japan, Okinawa, suffered massive devastation in World War Two during which fierce battles between Japanese and American forces left as many as 1/3 of its people dead, which was followed by around 30 years of US rule followed.

 Japan has not forgotten those days. Despite their opposition to the presence of American troops, most Okinawans are more concerned about the threat of a military confrontation involving China.

Okinawa is closer to Taiwan than the capital Tokyo which could turn it into a frontline target in the event of a conflict between the US and China.

Beijing considers Taiwan as part of its sovereign territory and views US military provocations as a sign of support for those inside Taiwan who seek independence.

American warships periodically carry out voyages through the strategic Taiwan Strait, drawing angry responses from China. The US is also the islands key backer and main arms supplier.

Tensions in Okinawa are likely to rise further given that lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have said that they want a commitment to more defense spending, including missiles that can hit targets on foreign soil; missiles that could be deployed in Okinawa.

The United States uses its force, and uses its bullying tactics, to impose its will on other countries. So I don't know that in the minds of the Japanese government that they are really able to operate as totally sovereign, independent entities, when it comes to going against the interests of the United States.

Dr Wilmer Leon, Author and Radio Host

Considering the latest developments Okinawa could soon find itself in the middle of another conflict, one that is reminiscent of a dark point in its history. And this time, once again, Washington plays a role in it.


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