Orphan Okinawa and the Japan-U.S. Alliance

Cheng Yan: Fate of Okinawa Affects Japan-U.S. Alliance

In the past few days, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been anxious about Okinawa’s Futenma base. Hatoyama was fighting for political power. He promised that, as long as he is in office, he would move the base out of the region (Okinawa) or overseas, but was opposed to Japan footing the bulk of relocation costs. Because of this, he won many votes in 2009. Yet the relocation continues to be delayed. From the current situation, it seems that the Hatoyama administration is unlikely to solve the issue of moving the Futenma base.

Resolving the Okinawa problem would mean attempting to have an “equal relationship with the U.S.”, which was raised as a campaign slogan. If this is the case, this definitely means that such an attempt would be utilitarian, temporary, and short-sighted. Hatoyama blindly wanted an equal footing with U.S. without any concrete long-term strategy for how to manage the issue of the U.S.-Japan alliance. This, apparently, is a gamble. The U.S. occupation of Japan after World War II became the starting point for the relationship between the U.S. and Japan. During this time period, the master and slave relationship became the basis of the relations between the U.S. and Japan.

Okinawa is a special place to the U.S., a former “military colony”. This, however, goes against U.S. beliefs regarding sovereignty, freedom, and equality. Japan and the U.S. have common values; however, these values disappeared in Okinawa, as it still remains controlled.

The Japanese government is constantly using Okinawa as a pawn — like an abandoned child on a military and political level. Towards the end of World War II, as the U.S. and Japan fought in Okinawa, many Okinawan soldiers and civilians died. Some Okinawans were regarded as U.S. spies and executed by Japanese soldiers or forced to commit mass suicide. Okinawa was sacrificed, which can also be regarded as “warfare abandonment.” After the war ended, Japan announced its new constitution and disregarded Okinawans by excluding them from deliberations on the Peace Constitution.

Japan and the U.S. signed a treaty in 1951, providing the U.S. Army with an institutional basis for a permanent presence in Japan. In Article 3 of the security treaty*, which came into effect in 1960, Japan, in effect, ceded to the U.S. complete control over Okinawa.

Until the mid 70s, Japan moved about 75 percent of U.S. military bases to Okinawa to avoid having the bases become a national political issue. In order to achieve its dream, Japan, a non-nuclear allied state, sacrificed Okinawa so that it could cooperate with the U.S. on many international issues and enjoy military and commercial intelligence with the U.S. Yet, Japan continues to view Okinawa as an alien presence, mistrusting and discriminating against the Okinawans — not only on an emotional level, but also on an institutional level. The best evidence of this is the Japanese decision to designate some Okinawans as spies during World War II and, subsequently, execute them.

Although Japan and the U.S. do have friction, the Japan-U.S. relationship is still Japan’s most important diplomatic relation. Currently, Japan is still relying on the U.S. for many military, economic, and political needs, so it has not challenged the U.S. If Japan wants to modify the Okinawan situation, it will have to negotiate and gain recognition from the U.S. Therefore, Japan might have to use economic compensation to influence public opinion, in order to not weaken the foundation of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

It is not impossible to remove the military base from Okinawa. In November 1953, the U.S Vice President, then Richard Nixon, said, “the United States will continue to control Okinawa as long as the communist threat exists.” Today, the relationship between China and the U.S. has changed dramatically. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared that America’s relationship with China would be the most important bilateral relationship in the world.

Recognizing this change has made Japan realize that it is unable to maintain the status quo in the Japan-U.S. alliance. Only when there is a change in the conditions of the U.S.-Japan alliance will there be a change on the issue of the Okinawa military base and subsequent changes, as well. But this will no doubt take a long time.

(Author is a Beijing Academy of Social Sciences Associate Researcher)

* Editor’s Note: Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States of America

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply