Okinawa asks for Tokyo’s help to reduce tensions with China
“We are greatly alarmed,” Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki said during discussions in parliament about a possible emergency in Taiwan – particularly on the assumption that Okinawa would be involved due to its relative proximity of 600 kilometers away. (370 miles) east of Taiwan through the East. China Sea.
Instead of a celebratory mood, there are worries about Okinawa, with its heavy burden of hosting US troops amid growing tension in the region from increasingly assertive military actions by China and the its rivalry with the United States. There are also fears that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will embolden China.
In what it calls a warning to Taiwan independence supporters and their foreign allies, China has held threatening drills and flown military jets near the island’s airspace, including on 24 February, the day Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.
Despite this, Chinese officials, including leader Xi Jinping, say they are determined to use peaceful means to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control.
The United States has always expressed support for ensuring Taiwan can defend itself, and Chinese military action against the island in the short to medium term is generally seen as a remote possibility.
But the lingering tension has reignited fears among Okinawans of being sacrificed again by mainland Japan, such as in the Battle of Okinawa which killed some 200,000 people, half of them local civilians.
“Any escalation of issues over the Taiwan Strait and the possibility of Okinawa being targeted for attack must never happen or be allowed to happen,” Tamaki said.
Noting that China is Japan’s largest trading partner and Japan is China’s second largest, Tamaki said their close economic ties would be indispensable.
“I call on the Japanese government to always maintain calm and peaceful diplomacy and dialogue to improve relations with China, while striving to ease US-China tensions,” he said.
Okinawa at the time of the reversion asked Japan to make it a peaceful island without military bases. Today, he is still burdened with the majority of the roughly 50,000 American troops and their military installations in Japan under the bilateral security treaty.
Due to the concentration of the US military, Okinawa faces daily noise, pollution, plane crashes and crime from US troops and their bases, Tamaki said.
In addition to these “visible problems,” he said, “there are also the problems that hinder Okinawa’s economic development and structural problems. This excessive American basic burden is still unresolved 50 years after reversal”.
Tamaki urged the government to raise awareness of Okinawa’s security overload which he said should be shared by all of Japan.
Okinawa called on Tokyo and Washington last year to gradually halve the US military presence in Okinawa, accelerate the withdrawal of Futenma Air Station from a crowded neighborhood and abandon ongoing construction of runways at Henoko on the east coast, he said.
“Okinawa’s burden on US military bases is a key diplomatic and security issue that concerns all Japanese people. We must return to the basic principle of burden sharing throughout Japan,” he added.
The biggest sticking point between Okinawa and Tokyo is the central government’s insistence on relocating from Futenma to Henoko.
Japan’s central government says the Henoko plan is the only workable plan and has forced it to go ahead despite years of rejection by Okinawans.
While Okinawa’s development projects over the past five decades have helped the economy, Okinawa’s average income has remained the lowest among Japan’s 47 prefectures, Tamaki said.
If land taken by the US military is returned to the prefecture for economic purposes, it would triple US military-related revenue from Okinawa, Tamaki said.
Japan sees China’s military buildup as a regional threat and has increasingly moved its troops to defend outlying islands in the southwest, including Okinawa and its outlying islands, deploying missile defense systems and other facilities, while increasing joint exercises with the U.S. military and other regional partners.