Experts on Japan commented on the importance of such a large delegation accompanying Governor Onaga to the United States, as it reflected the fact that opposition to the Henoko base construction reflects the feeings of a majority of Okinawans and is not just a matter of Governor Onaga’s intransigence. Congress members thanked the delegates for explaining the situation in Okinawa and conveying their views on the matter. Reports in some Japanese newspapers derided the trip as a failure and claimed that Onaga and the rest had been “rebuked” by the United States, but these reports did not reflect the experience of the delegates.
On the night of June 3, Governor Onaga held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, at which he described his impressions of the trip. He stated that he had travelled to Washington aware that U.S. officials would not change their stance easily, and had been prepared to hear that the Henoko base “must” be built. However, he emphasized the significance of the trip as lying in the fact that he was able to express Okinawa’s position and discuss the situation with many people, and expanded his network in both Hawaii and Washington, DC.
After Governor Onaga finished his press conference, the rest of the delegates held their own press conference, though without English interpretation. Okinawa Prefectural Assembly member and delegation leader Toguchi Osamu’s remarks at the press conference can be seen on Youtube. He explained that the delegates had met with 15 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 23 of their staff members, as well 7 senators’ staff members, 10 think tank members. He described the overarching purpose of the delegation as being to express to U.S. officials that Okinawa would absolutely not allow the construction of the Henoko base. He echoed Governor Onaga’s view that through their visit, understanding of the situation in Okinawa had deepened among U.S. officials and others they spoke with. He spoke about how the delegates had explained that all of the U.S. military bases in Okinawa were built on land forcibly seized by the military, and not a single one was provided willingly by Okinawans. The delegates further explained that if the new base construction is pushed forward forcefully, Okinawan public sentiment, which currently accepts being host to U.S. military bases and primarly objects to the construction of a new base, could turn against the presence of bases altogether, which would have negative implications for the U.S.-Japan security alliance.
Okinawa Prefectural Assembly member and delegate Yamauchi Sueko posted the following report:
“People are questioning the success of the governor’s visit to the United States.
Because we are trying to put a stop to a project that was decided by the central governments of the U.S. and Japan, it’s only to be expected that the U.S. side would be tense and put forth a hardline stance!
However, we took the first step to break down that wall!
Some people ask how we expected to make any demands without first revoking or cancelling the land reclamation permit.
However, even if they have some idea about Futenma, the reality is that few U.S. congress members and others understand the Henoko relocation issue.
When we explained that 83% of Okinawans are opposed to the relocation plan, about Okinawan people’s experiences over the past 70 years and why opposition to the new base has grown so strong, when we showed them pictures of protesters risking their lives at sea and in front of Camp Schwab in order to prevent the constuction, and pictures of the 5/17 rally, many of the people we met with opened their eyes wide in surprise, listened to us seriously, and agreed that a plan that does not have the understanding of the local people should not proceed.
Next time, we’ll have entered into a new stage of development, and our discussions will be even more cutthroat!
I can see light in the future.
I’m working to prepare for the next step forward!
It’s very encouraging that [scholar] Terajima Jitsuro said on TV that our visit to the U.S. deserves attention.
I hope the people of Okinawa will give their utmost support to the governor as he works to conduct his own diplomacy to break through this national issue!
Everyone has an opinion about what should come first and what should be our priority.
All the opinions I’ve heard make a lot of sense to me.
In any case, the governor is currently working on this issue from many different angles, and has now come to a point where he must make a crucial decision.
Please keep giving him and us even more support and attention!”
Because of the complex historical relationship between Japan and Okinawa, it is critical that communication continues between Okinawa and the United States regarding this issue. However, a continued and concerted effort on all sides will be needed to solve this problem peacefully, democratically, and justly.
Delegates and staff on June 3 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.