25 November 2014

Resisting U.S. Bases in Okinawa - Foreign Policy in Focus

Despite intense crackdowns, activists on the Japanese island of Okinawa continue to resist the construction of new U.S. military bases.

(Photo: Ojo de Cineasta / Flickr)

They come in kayaks and canoes to protect the bay, maintain a tent city on the beach, and hold candlelight vigils. From posters to marches, songs, and a petition expressing international solidarity, Okinawan residents have left no question about their fierce opposition to construction of a new military base for the U.S. Marines on their island.

Overriding these emphatic voices, the Japanese and United States governments have begun work on a new facility at the Nago City site of Henoko—initiating offshore drilling, tearing down buildings, and bringing in construction supplies.

The building of this base has broad ramifications: it will destroy local marine life, pollute natural resources, and put residents in danger. Even more disturbingly, it reflects the long-term violation of Okinawans’ democratic rights—namely, their ability to set the policies that affect their lives. And more globally, it signifies Japan’s slippery slope toward further militarization, and solidifies Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s support of U.S. military activity in Asia.

Nonetheless, despite intense crackdowns to suppress resistance, Okinawan activists remain determined to continue their opposition to this base. 

“Reducing the Burden”

It all began with a violent incident: In 1995, three U.S. servicemen abducted and raped a 12-year-old Okinawan girl. This episode rekindled a fierce opposition movement among Okinawans who had long objected to U.S. bases in their midst.

Facing an angry and mobilized population, in 1996 the United States and Japan set up theSpecial Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO), ostensibly to “reduce the burden on the people of Okinawa and thereby strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance.” Under SACO, 20 percent of military-occupied land was to be returned to Okinawan control. This included the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in the city of Ginowan.


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