TOKYO ( Associated Press) – Okinawa on Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the return to Japan on May 15, 1972, ending 27 years of US rule on the southern Japanese island after one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.
The day is being marked with more bitterness than joy in Okinawa, which is still burdened with a heavy US military presence and is now increasingly deploying Japanese troops amid rising tensions with China.
The Associated Press takes a look at the despair that remains in Okinawa 50 years after returning to Japan.
What happened at the end of WWII?
US forces, in their push for mainland Japan, landed on the main island of Okinawa on April 1, 1945.
The fighting lasted until the end of June, killing about 200,000 people, about half of whom were Okinawan residents, including students and victims of mass suicides by the Japanese military.
Historians say that Okinawa was sacrificed by the Imperial Army of Japan to protect the mainland. Until 1972, the islands were under US occupation for 20 years longer than most of Japan.
Why was Okinawa captured?
The US military recognized Okinawa’s strategic importance to Pacific security and planned to maintain its military presence in the region to deter Russia and communism.
A 1946 decision by Allied Supreme Commander General Douglas MacArthur separated Okinawa and several other southwestern remote islands from the rest of Japan, paving the way for American rule beyond April 28, 1952, when San Francisco The treaty took effect. , ending a seven-year American occupation of the rest of Japan.
According to the Okinawa Prefectural Archives, imperial adviser Hideneri Terasaki told MacArthur of Emperor Hirohito’s “opinion” that the US military occupation of Okinawa should continue to address concerns about Russia.
Economic, educational and social development in Okinawa lagged as Japan enjoyed a post-war economic boom, helped by low defense spending due to the US military presence in Okinawa.
How do Okinawans remember US rule?
During American rule, Okinawans used dollars and obeyed US traffic laws, and any travel between Okinawa and mainland Japan required a passport.
The base-dependent economy hindered the development of local industry. The local Okinawan government had little decision-making power, and officials did not have access to criminal investigations of US military personnel.
The confiscation of local land for American bases led to calls for a return to Japan in the late 1950s in Okinawa.
Many Okinawas called for tax reform, wage increases, and a better social welfare system to correct the inequalities between Okinawa and the rest of Japan.
But delayed withdrawals, a heavy US military presence and mismanaged development funding from the central government have hindered the island’s economic growth, experts say.
What are the main problems facing Okinawa today?
Many in Okinawa had hoped that the island’s return to Japan would improve the economy and human rights conditions. A year before repatriation, then-Okinawa leader Chobyo Yara submitted a petition to Japan’s central government to free the island from military bases.
Today, however, most of the 50,000 US troops located in Japan under the bilateral security agreement and 70% of the military facilities are on Okinawa, which occupies only 0.6% of Japanese land. The burden has dropped to less than 60% in 1972 as unwanted US bases were relocated from the mainland.
Okinawa has the lowest median household income and the highest unemployment among Japan’s 47 prefectures. Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki said that if the land taken by the US military is returned to the prefecture for other uses, it would produce three times more income for Okinawa than for the island.
Because of the US bases, Okinawa faces noise, pollution, plane crashes and crime related to US troops, Tamaki said. A recent NHK television survey showed that 82% of respondents in Okinawa expressed fear of being the victim of an Aadhaar-related crime or accidents.
The biggest sticking point between Okinawa and Tokyo is the central government’s insistence that Futenama Air Station, a US maritime base in an overcrowded neighborhood, should be relocated within Okinawa, rather than move it somewhere as demanded by many Okinawas. and be transferred. Tokyo and Washington initially agreed to close the station in 1996, largely due to anti-base agitation following the rape of a schoolgirl by three US military personnel in 1995.
Tokyo has forced the construction of a new runway in Henoko Bay, off Okinawa’s east coast, despite 72% opposition in Okinawa’s 2019 referendum. Opponents have cited environmental destruction, structural problems and rising costs. But the prospects for its completion remain uncertain.
Tamaki adopted a new petition earlier in May calling on Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government to significantly reduce US forces on Okinawa, the immediate closure of Futenama Base, and the end of Henoko Base construction.
Among Okinawa’s fears is the rapid deployment of Japanese missile defense and amphibious capabilities on Okinawa’s outlying islands, including Ishigaki, Miyako and Yonaguni, which are close to geopolitical hotspots such as Taiwan.
How do OKINAWANS feel today?
The outrage over the massive presence of American troops is deep. Many Okinawans believe that his sacrifice made the post-World War II Japan-US security alliance possible.
There are also ancient tensions between Okinawa and the Japanese mainland, which annexed the islands, formerly the Independent State of Ryukuse, in 1879.
There are complaints of discrimination and claims that Okinawas are “forced to play expendable roles protecting mainland Japan”, said Hiromori Medomari, professor of politics at Okinawa International University.
Some people have started demanding independence from Japan.
A key organizer of the 2019 referendum, 31-year-old Jinshiro Motoyama, said that after repeatedly ignoring their requests, many Okinawans, including the younger generation, for whom US bases are part of their daily lives, feel that they have the right to speak up. there is no profit.
There are concerns that calls by ruling lawmakers for another military build-up amid rising tensions around nearby Taiwan could increase the risk of war.
“I fear that plans are being made on the premise that the Okinawan people may suffer in the conflict,” Motoyama said.