It is a bit of a late reaction, but I would like to express my appreciation to Anna for covering the Okinawan issue. Being a citizen of Okinawa since nearly 15 years I’m glad to see that at least some US news outlets are covering the ongoing conflict on a regular basis.
I’m relatively new to the NBR list on Japan so I don’t know how the Okinawan issue has been discussed in the past, but recent posts on the issue are scarce and I have to admit that I’m kind of startled by its „minor“ appearance here.
While topics such as „American labor and Chinese (East Asian) export-led development“ or „European interest in hybrid drive system“ trigger extensive discussions there hardly is any reaction to posts on this issue, one that I believe is defining Japanese democracy.
I suppose most people will all agree that Democracy only works if a number of prerequisites are met. I believe equal treatment of all citizens according to the same standards, a healthy level of self-determination of the regions and further meticulous protection of the rights of minorities are three of those basic prerequisites, but all of those don’t work in Okinawa.
Self-determination was profoundly impaired when the US military decided to forcefully take away large chunks of land from the Okinawan people to turn Okinawa into the prime keystone of their military complex in Asia and even after the return to Japan the Okinawan people were never asked whether they actually want to be a US military keystone or not.
Even now, more then forty years after the reversion, close to 20% of the main island of Okinawa remain under US military rule and this ridiculously different standard is taken for granted. No other prefecture in Japan is carrying any whatsoever comparable burden and it is based on the painful perception of this double standard that close to 80% of the Okinawan people oppose the relocation of Futenma to Henoko.
I believe in Okinawa we are dealing with a form of power harassment, that is the result of a dysfunctional democracy and of a deeply engraved form of structural discrimination that everybody, including many Okinawas, got so used to that it appears to be business as usual.
Of course the issue exposes a problem of perspective, or what we might call a bias of perspective. It makes a huge difference from which perspective one views the conflict. Whether one is exposed to it on a daily basis or whether one looks onto the struggle of „some islanders“ from a far distance. This is true for the media as it is for politics.
But the Okinawan issue reaches beyond national security and regional politics and whether or not the Okinawan conflict can be solved with proper consideration for the will of the large majority of the Okinawan people will profoundly shape the nation of Japan in one or another direction.
I would go so far as to call it a lynchpin for the functioning or failure of Japanese democracy.
I would like to suggest to see the Okinawan issue as a prime indicator for the degree of authoritarianism at work in Japan. Okinawa is no doubt the weakest member of the Japanese „family“ and the way the Okinawan citizens are dealt with can be seen as a litmus test that reveals how the people in power deal with citizens rights in general.
Since becoming a US military colony after WW2 Okinawa is fighting a very unequal uphill battle against all odds. Seen from an Okinawan perspective two immensely powerful bullies have in cozy succession decided to make use of Okinawa and only listen to Okinawan voices if convenient or not avoidable. Otherwise the two bullies have intimidated, pressured, bribed, threatened or plainly ignored the Okinawan people and they were able to do so simply because Okinawa is a small island.
The Okinawan people lack the power and the slyness to make their voice heard and the more important it is for the national and international media to pick up the topic and lend a voice to the underdogs in this seemingly endless struggle.
I’m looking forward to more reporting on this without doubt complex and challenging issue.
University of the Ryukyus assoc. prof.
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