Okinawa marks 50th anniversary of end of US government amid protests

Okinawa is marking the 50th anniversary of its return to Japan after 27 years of American rule on May 15, 1972, amid protests against a heavy US military presence and lack of mainland support.

The ceremonies will be held simultaneously, but at two locations – one in the prefectural capital of Naha Island and the other in Tokyo. The separate ceremonies symbolize the deep division of opinion about Okinawa’s history and the ongoing suffering.

Only Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his minister in charge of the islands are in Okinawa, where hundreds of protesters staged a rally on Saturday demanding a faster reduction of US military forces amid growing fears that Okinawa could become a hotspot. front of the conflict amid rising tensions in China.

More protests were planned on Sunday on Okinawa’s outer islands.

Resentment and frustration run deep in Okinawa over the strong US presence and Tokyo’s lack of effort to negotiate with Washington to balance the security burden between mainland Japan and the southern island group.

Because of the USA. bases, Okinawa faces burdens including noise, pollution, accidents and crimes related to US troops, officials and Okinawan residents say.

Adding to Okinawa’s fears is the growing deployment of Japanese missile defense and amphibious capabilities on Okinawa’s outer islands, including Ishigaki, Miyako and Yonaguni, which are close to geopolitical hotspots such as Taiwan.

Okinawa was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, which killed an estimated 200,000 people, nearly half of them Okinawan residents.

Okinawa was sacrificed by Japan’s imperial army to defend the mainland, and many Okinawans are skeptical that the Japanese military would protect them in future conflicts, experts say.

The US military maintained its troop presence on the island group for 20 years longer than most of Japan, until 1972, due to Okinawa’s strategic importance to Pacific security to deter Russia and communism.

Many Okinawans hoped that the islands’ return to Japan would improve the economy and human rights situation, as well as basic responsibilities.

Today, most of the 50,000 US troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact and 70% of military installations are still on Okinawa, which represents just 0.6% of Japanese land. The load increased from less than 60% in 1972 as unwanted American bases were relocated from the mainland.

The biggest sticking point between Okinawa and Tokyo is the central government’s insistence that a US naval base in a crowded neighborhood, Futenma Air Station, be relocated within Okinawa rather than being moved elsewhere as required by many Okinawans.

Tokyo and Washington initially agreed in 1996 to close the station after the 1995 rape of a student by three US servicemen led to a massive anti-base movement.

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki in early May submitted a petition to the Kishida government and the US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel demanding a significant reduction of the US military in Okinawa, the immediate closure of the Futenma base and the dismantling of a new base in Henoko.

Economic, educational, and social development in Okinawa lagged behind as Japan enjoyed a post-war economic upswing that was helped by lower defense spending due to the US military presence in Okinawa.

The central government’s development fund since the rollback has improved Okinawa’s infrastructure, but the growth of local industry, which was largely stunted under the US government, is still largely limited to tourism.

Today, Okinawa’s average household income is the lowest and its unemployment is the highest of Japan’s 47 prefectures. If land taken by the US military is returned to the prefecture for another use, it would produce three times as much income for Okinawa as the island now earns from bases, Tamaki said recently.

Okinawan authorities regularly face denials from the US side in criminal and environmental investigations.

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