by the Study Group on Okinawan External Affairs
On Friday 13 November, US President Obama flew in to Tokyo. The unresolved issue of “replacing” Futenma US Marine Air Station has been removed from the talks agenda, because the two sides cannot agree on how to resolve it. Festering for more than 13 years, the issue has risen gradually to a head since the Hatoyama Government too office at the beginning of September calling for a redefinition of US-Japan relations.
The one proposal that nobody in either Tokyo or Washington has considered is the one advanced below, by a representative group of prominent Okinawans: that the US simply close and withdraw from all its Okinawan bases. For 65 years, US forces have dominated Okinawa, beginning with the 1945 and continuing through protracted military occupation to the present. Until Okinawan views are taken into serious consideration, the problem cannot be settled.
The Okinawan “Open letter,” reproduced below in both English and Japanese, was released on 9 November.
November 9, 2009
President Barack Hussein Obama,
We are residents of Okinawa and we would like to express our views regarding the United States Marine Corps Futenma Air Station and the current agreement to build a new base in Nago City, Okinawa.
We urge you to withdraw all of USMC from Okinawa. The people of Okinawa have been and will continue to be firmly opposed to the current US plan to relocate the dangerous Futenma Air Station to another location within Okinawa. We demand that the Futenma Air Station be shut down and returned unconditionally. The USMC has been stationed in Okinawa since the mid 1950s. The only real solution to the Futenma problem is a total withdrawal of the USMC from Okinawa.
Here we respectfully state the reasons for our demand. First, the current agreement between the US and Japanese governments regarding the construction of a new USMC base in Nago City was reached without consultation with the government or the people of Okinawa in 2005 and 2006. As many recent election results and public opinion polls show, Okinawa’s people have been calling for relocating Futenma out of Okinawa.
Second, the sea area of the new base, located off shore of USMC Camp Schwab in Nago City, is a habitat for various endangered species, including dugong, the Asian manatee. It is unacceptable to destroy the highly valuable ocean environment with the construction of a military base.
Third, the US and Japanese governments agreed to close the USMC Futenma Base and return its land to Okinawa in 1996, with the condition that a replacement facility be constructed in Okinawa. However, the new facility has not yet been built. The fourteen years since have proven that it is simply not possible to squeeze a new military base in Okinawa, which has long suffered an overburden of US military presence.
Finally, when the closure of Futenma Air Station was first discussed, it was assumed that the ground combat element and logistic combat element would remain in Okinawa. However, since there is virtually no possibility of building a new air station in Okinawa, the USMC should relocate both the ground combat element and aviation combat element out of Okinawa. Indeed, it would be more logical and beneficial for the USMC if all the elements of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force were relocated together. Our proposal of a total withdrawal of USMC from Okinawa would actually fit the necessity of the MAGTF’s integration of elements most effectively. By withdrawing from Okinawa, the USMC could avoid the unreasonable arrangement of keeping some troops in Okinawa and stationing others in Guam or Hawaii. It would be more desirable for the USMC, while at the same time preserving the highly valuable ocean environment and satisfying the demands of the people of Okinawa.
In conclusion, we wish to urge the United States and Japanese governments to begin the process of planning for a total withdrawal of the USMC from Okinawa. Now is the time to act for “CHANGE” to create a better relationship between Japan and the United States. Both countries would benefit from a break with the status quo and a fresh perspective on the Futenma issue.
Study Group on Okinawa External Affairs
Hirayuki Agarie, Professor Emeritus, University of the Ryukyus
Akira Arakawa, Journalist
Moriteru Arasaki, Professor Emeritus, Okinawa University
Masaie Ishihara, Professor, Okinawa International University
Tatsuhiro Oshiro, Novelist
Masaaki Gabe, Professor, University of the Ryukyus
Manabu Sato, Professor, Okinawa International University
Kunitoshi Sakurai, President, Okinawa University
Jun Shimabukuro, Professor, University of the Ryukyus
Suzuyo Takazato, Former Vice-speaker, Naha City Assembly
Tetsumi Takara, Professor, University of the Ryukyus
Hiroyuki Teruya, Professor, Okinawa International University
Hiroshi Nakachi, Professor, Okinawa University
Nozato Yo, Journalist
Eiichi Hoshino, Professor, University of the Ryukyus
Kakeshi Miki, Journalist
Akiya Miyazato, Journalist
Akiko Yui, Journalist
Filmmaker Linda Hoaglund’s video of the November 8, 2009 Ginowan anti-base demonstration that preceded the Obama visit to Japan is here.