Here’s another guest post from JSW contributor Shino Hateruma. This is an introductory post by Shino on U.S. – Japanese relations and the bases on Okinawa. Shino is Japanese but identifies herself as Okinawan.

Congratulations to Shino for being accepted into the Ph.D. program at Waseda University!

Considering the concentration of the military stationed there, the U.S., Japan and Okinawa are talking about the “burden” on the island but are all thinking differently. What do they really mean? There seems a gap in the recognition of the “burden” behind all the issues on Futenma.

Washington and Tokyo assume Okinawa bears four burdens—noise from military aircraft, possible accidents by the U.S. military, incidents and accidents involving personnel outside of the bases, and the occupation of land and its hindrance to economic activities. It is expected that all these problems would be solved if Futenma Airbase were relocated to Henoko, northeast of the main island. Henoko is a village which is much less populated and dense than Futenma. There would be less people to hear the roar of airplanes and helicopters, and a lower possibility of a military plane crashing into buildings. Okinawa’s social order would improve because 8,000 Marines would be removed to Guam. If Futenma base were returned, Okinawa would be able to use the land freely to develop new cities or industry. Therefore, the current relocation plan is such a great deal. But this is just what the two governments think of Okinawa’s burden.

For the people of Okinawa, there are other concerns as well as the problems mentioned above. First and foremost, they are afraid of perpetuating the military bases on the island. That’s why, they, including the successive governors of Okinawa, have opposed relocation within the island and claimed the unconditional return of the bases. Second, they are concerned by the environmental effects. Protestors who have continued to sit-in at Henoko have insisted that they must protect the precious ocean ecosystem. Construction would damage the natural bay that offers food and shelter to marine life. Third, there exists an opinion that accepting bases increases Okinawa’s dependency on the central government. As long as military bases remain there, the prefectural government and some of Okinawa’s residents cannot help relying on economic inducements, public projects, and subsidies. This would discourage Okinawa’s financial independence and self-sustainability.

The Japanese government sometimes tells the people of Okinawa that the current plan is beneficial to them in the long term. However, it is the local people who have wider and stronger concerns about the long-term burden and their future. If the U.S. and Japan do not understand what is behind the demands from the people of Okinawa, they will not be able to carry out the plan. Also, if the Okinawan governor does not explain Okinawa’s long-term burden clearly to its negotiating partners, they will remain mistaken about it and the negotiations will stay in deadlock.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch