Okinawan Delegation to Washington: Part 1

English-language news media, most notably the Washinton Post, recently reported on Okinawa Governor Onaga Takeshi’s recent visit to Hawaii and Washington, DC to express his opposition to the relocation of MCAS Futenma to Henoko, Nago. Senator John McCain as well as the U.S. State Department released statements immediately after their meetings with Governor Onaga declaring their unwavering support for the Henoko relocation.

Along with Governor Onaga, a delegation of more than 20 representatives from Okinawa, including mayors, prefectural assembly members, city council members, and business leaders also visited Hawaii and Washington DC at the same time. In Washington DC, the delegates split into groups and for three days followed a busy schedule attending meetings with members of congress and their staff, as well as think tanks and other organizations and individuals. The delegates worked tirelessly to explain the current situation in Okinawa and express their and the majority of Okinawans’ opposition to the relocation of MCAS Futenma to Henoko or the construction of any new base in Okinawa.

Their explanations included details of the environmental havoc that would be wreaked upon the pristine Henoko sea and the coral and sea life therein; the overwhelming opposition to the construction on the part of the Okinawan people, represented by last year’s series of elections and ongoing protests, including the 5/17 rally attended by 35,000 people; the forceful nature with which the Japanese government is currently proceeding with construction and use of force and violence by police and coast guard members against protesters at Henoko; the 70-year history of Okinawa, which makes up less than 0.6% of Japan’s land mass, being forced to host nearly 74% of all U.S. military exclusive use facilities in Japan; the fact that the Japanese government refuses to listen to Okinawa and fails to express the actual situation to their counterparts in the United States; the fact that U.S. military bases actually impede economic growth in Okinawa, rather than contributing to the economy, a common but mistaken belief; and more.

Many members of congress and congressional staff were not aware of the situation in Okinawa at all, so in that sense, the delegation provided an important opportunity to spread awareness among U.S. law-makers who have at least some voice in determining U.S. policy and thus ought to know what the issue surrounding U.S. bases overseas.

Many expressed sympathy and offered their support, but expressed there was likely little they could do to affect the situation.

Others argued that while the Henoko base is not necessary from the perspective of security, defense, or military strategy, politically it is the only option. It was the job of the delegates to explain that actually, politically, it is NOT an option. Okinawa cannot be taken advantage of yet again just because they are perceived as politically weak.

Some argued that the base is necessary because of the threat from China and North Korea. However, many, if not most, experts disagree with this view. Building a base in Henoko will not affect deterrence or protect Japan against China or North Korea. The delegates had to assure proponents of this argument that no, actually, they have no interest in being annexed by China–but there is no sensible reason to believe that closing Futenma without relocating it within Okinawa would invite China to invade. For one thing, all the other U.S. bases in Okinawa would probably prevent such an occurrence.

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