If the domestic government cannot break the deadlock on the various burdens borne by Okinawa, then it will seek to raise the issue and gain understanding from the international community. This is yet another attempt by Okinawa to seek reparations for human rights infringements by U.S. military bases.
From Sept. 18 to 20, Okinawa Prefectural Gov. Denny Tamaki will attend the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. It will have been eight years since the last prefectural governor visit, when former Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga visited the UNHRC in 2015.
Tamaki said, “I am here today to ask the world to witness the situation in Okinawa, where the concentration of American bases threatens the peace, and prevents equal participation in decision-making.”
The current situation in Okinawa, where about 70% of Japan’s facilities for U.S. military use are concentrated, goes against democracy; the voices of prefectural residents who have been calling for the consolidation and curtailment of the bases have not been heard. Incidents and accidents originating from the U.S. military bases threaten the human rights of citizens; many residents have had personal experiences. It is quite significant that Tamaki raised the issue of Okinawa’s real issues at the U.N.
And this time, there are also some who question Tamaki’s actions. Referring to the governor’s statements to the U.N., the Liberal Democratic Party and Tamaki’s fellow party members in the prefectural assembly have said that they “want Tamaki to make a level-headed statement without connecting the Henoko issue to a human rights problem.” They asked that “the discussion ought to first be deepened within the domestic political arena, without appealing to international public opinion.”
This request was most likely based on a sense of wariness about appealing to the U.N. to safeguard rights because the U.N. is also debating the status of indigenous Okinawans. Thus, there are concerns about linking the Henoko discussion to a human rights issue.
Many prefectural citizens, however, actually believe that the problem of the new base at Henoko includes a human rights issue. It would be for the best if the issue could be resolved internally, but Okinawa’s suffering resides in the fact that the voice of its citizens has not become the voice of the nation. This understanding is shared by the citizens of the prefecture, regardless of party affiliation or political stance.
Both Okinawa’s prefectural governor and the prefectural assembly have voiced their concerns abroad many times. Since the era of former Okinawa Gov. Junji Nishime, both conservatives and progressives have appealed to the U.S. government for adjustments and the curtailment of military bases. This is a political asset for Okinawa.
Moreover, looking back to February 1962, while under U.S. rule, the legislature of the government of the Ryukyu Islands unanimously approved a resolution raising the matter of the unfairness of U.S. rule, citing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, adopted by the U.N. in December 1960.
The appeal to U.S. and international public opinion is rooted in Okinawa’s right to self-determination. Gov. Tamaki’s attendance at the UNHRC can be viewed as an extension of this right.
In their request, the prefectural party chapter of the LDP expressed concern about China’s actions in recent years — including the words and actions of the Chinese head of state, Xi Jinping, who has an interest in Okinawa — as well as China’s infringement on territorial islands surrounding the Senkaku Islands.
There must be vigilance regarding China’s hegemonic advances. For this reason, the autonomous regional diplomacy touted by the Tamaki administration should encourage both detente in tensions in the East Asia region as well as peace in Okinawa.