World Scholars, Artists, Activists Call for Demilitarization of Okinawa
APPEALS, 27 Aug 2018
To Prime Minister of Japan, Abe Shinzo
To President of the United States, Donald Trump
To Acting Governor of Okinawa, Jahana Kiichiro
To Acting Governor of Okinawa, Tomikawa Moritake
To people of the world
X September 2018
In January 2014, more than one hundred scholars, peace activists and artists from around the world issued a statement condemning the Japanese and U.S. governments’ plans to close MCAS Futenma, which is located in the middle of a congested urban neighbourhood, and build a new base for the US Marine Corps offshore from the coastal village of Henoko in Northern Okinawa. While we applauded shutting the Futenma base, we strongly objected to the idea of relocating it inside Okinawa.
Okinawa has suffered at Japanese and American hands for more than a century. It was incorporated by force into both the pre-modern Japanese state in 1609 and into modern Japan in 1879. In 1945, it was the scene of the final major battle of World War Two, resulting in the deaths of between one-third and one-quarter of its population. It was then severed from the rest of Japan under direct US military rule for another 27 years during which the Pentagon constructed military bases, unfettered by Japanese residual sovereignty or Okinawan sentiment. Reversion to Japan took place in 1972, bases intact. In the continuing post-Cold War era, Okinawa has faced the pressure of state policies designed to reinforce that base system, not only by construction of the Henoko facility but also by the building of “helicopter pads” for the Marine Corps in the Yambaru forest of northern Okinawa and by the accelerating fortification of the chain of “Southwest” (Nansei) islands that stretch from Kagoshima to Taiwan (including Amami, Miyako, Ishigaki, and Yonaguni).
Signatories of our 2014 statement included linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky, filmmakers Oliver Stone, Michael Moore and John Junkerman, Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire, Prof. Johan Galtung, historians Norma Field, John Dower, Alexis Dudden and Herbert Bix, former US Army Colonel Ann Wright, authors Naomi Klein and Joy Kogawa, former UN Special Rapporteur for Palestine Richard Falk, and former Defense and State Department official Daniel Ellsberg. The present statement follows on from that of four years ago and from subsequent statements such as those in January and August 2015. It includes many of the original signatories.
We raise our voices again because our concerns were never remedied and are heightened today. In military and strategic terms, Japanese and American experts agree that there is no reason why functions of the projected new base (if indeed there is need for them, which many doubt) had to be in Okinawa. The government insists on Okinawa largely because it thinks it is “politically impossible” to build such a new base elsewhere in Japan.
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In 2017-18, the government of Japan built seawalls around Cape Henoko (mobilizing a large force of riot police and the Japan Coast Guard to crush the non-violent opposition). In June 2018, it served notice of intent to commence dropping sand and soil into Oura Bay as part of the plan to fill in and reclaim a 160 hectare site for construction of a major new facility for the US Marine Corps. It would construct a concrete platform rising ten meters above sea level with two 1,800-meter runways and a 272-meter long wharf.
In environmental terms, Oura Bay is one of Japan’s most bio-diverse and fertile marine zones, in the highest category for protection (in the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s conservation guideline), home to over 5,300 marine species, 262 of them endangered, including coral, sea cucumber, seaweed, shrimp, snails, fish, tortoises, snakes and mammals, and to the specially protected marine mammal, the dugong. The bay is also connected to the ecosystem of the Yambaru forest in northern Okinawa Island, which the Japanese Ministry of the Environment nominated as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site in 2017, along with three other islands of Okinawa and Kagoshima prefectures. That nomination was withdrawn in June 2018 as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the advisory organization on natural heritage issues to UNESCO, recommended that the nomination be “deferred,” seeking clarification on how to match the Yambaru forest as a World Heritage site with the presence of the US military’s Northern Training Area within it.
An independent environmental impact assessment (EIA) is required by law for such large-scale reclamation and public works, but the Japanese government simply commissioned the Ministry of Defense, the party seeking to reclaim, to conduct its own EIA. Governor Nakaima Hirokazu found that it would be “impossible, by the environmental protection measures spelled out in the EIA, to maintain the preservation of people’s livelihood and the natural environment.” Despite that, and despite the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s Environmental Impact Assessment Review Committee in 2012 listing 150 cases of insufficient findings and understated adverse effects on the environment, and despite Nakaima’s having been elected in 2010 on a pledge to demand relocation of Futenma outside of Okinawa, he reversed himself under heavy state pressure while ensconced in a Tokyo hospital in December 2013, granting the permit to proceed with construction despite overwhelming opposition in Okinawa. His unexplained shift angered many Okinawans and, in November 2014, he suffered massive (by more than 100,000 votes) defeat by Onaga Takeshi, whose core pledge was to do “everything in my power” to stop the Henoko project.
Onaga appointed a “Third Party” Commission of experts to advise him on this matter and its report in July 2015 was equally clear that the necessary environmental conditions for construction had not been met. Documents later released by the US Department of Defense (DOD) in a US federal court case showed the DOD’s expert opinion concurred that the EIA was “extremely poorly done” and “does not withstand scientific scrutiny.” In August 2015, we urged him to act decisively, and in October, he did “cancel” the reclamation license.
However, after prolonged litigation, the Supreme Court, late in 2016, upheld the national government’s claim that the cancellation was illegal. Onaga submitted to that ruling, thus reviving the reclamation permit, and the state resumed site work in April 2017. As those works at Oura Bay gradually gathered momentum, Onaga even appeared at times to be cooperating with the state’s construction design. In late 2017, he gave permission for use of Northern Okinawan ports for transport of construction materials to the Henoko-Oura Bay site and in July 2018 he approved the application by the Okinawa Defense Bureau for permission to remove and transplant endangered coral from the construction site despite strong evidence that transplanting, especially in spawning season, offered little prospect of success.
He retained, however, the option of issuing a “rescission” or “revocation” (tekkai) order, something he repeatedly promised to do when the time was ripe. Eventually, on 27 July 2018, Onaga gave formal notice of his intent to revoke and ordered preliminary steps accordingly. Two weeks later, however, on August 8, he suddenly died. Pending the election of a successor, to take place on 30 September, two Deputy Governors, Jahana Kiichiro and Tominaga Moritake took over the functions of Governor. The planned revocation would proceed, said Jahana, though the timing is uncertain.
Base construction flies in the face of constitutional principles such as popular sovereignty and the right to regional self-government. Okinawan opposition to the construction of a new base has been constant, reaching at times over 80 per cent in public opinion surveys, and has been repeatedly affirmed in elections (not least that of Onaga himself in 2014). No Okinawan candidate for office has ever been elected on an explicitly pro-base construction platform. The Okinawan parliament has twice, in May 2016 and November 2017, called for withdrawal of the Marine Corps altogether from Okinawa.
It is time to rethink the “fortress” role assigned to Okinawa by successive Japanese governments and U.S. military and strategic planners and to begin to articulate a role for Okinawa, including its “frontier” islands, as the centre of a de-militarized community to be built around the East Sea/Sea of Japan. Cancellation of the Henoko project and an end to the militarization of the Frontier Islands would, more than anything, signal a commitment to the construction of such a new order.
We, the undersigned, support the people of Okinawa in their struggle for peace, dignity, human rights and protection of their environment, and we call on the people of Japan to recognize and support the justice of that struggle.
We declare our support for Okinawa prefecture’s revocation of the reclamation license for Oura Bay of which former Governor Onaga served formal notice on 27 July and which Acting Governor Jahana has pledged to carry out.
We call on Prime Minister Abe to cancel forthwith the planned base construction for the US Marine Corps at Henoko and to open negotiations with the government of the United States towards drastically reducing, and eventually eliminating, the US military base presence on Okinawa.
We call on Prime Minister Abe to order a halt to the construction or expansion of Japanese military facilities on Amami, Miyako, Ishigaki and Yonaguni Islands and to initiate debate on ways to transform Okinawa Island and the Frontier Islands into a regional centre for peace and cooperation.
We call on the candidates for election to the Governorship of Okinawa to make clear their intent to carry out the manifest will of the Okinawan people to close Futenma, stop Henoko and rethink the Frontier Islands, shifting overall Okinawa policy priority from militarization to peace, the environment, and regional cooperation.
We call upon the people and governments of the world to support the struggle of the people of Okinawa to demilitarize the Okinawan islands and to live in peace.
– Joseph Gerson, President, Campaign for Peace Disarmament and Common Security
–Erin Jones, Independent researcher, Gilbert AZ
–Petr Kuznick, Professor of History and Director, Nuclear Studies Institute, American University.
–Gavan McCormack, Emeritus Professor, Australian National University.
–Satoko Oka Norimatsu, Editor, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.
–Steve Rabson, Professor Emeritus of East Asian Studies, Brown University, and Veteran, US Army, Okinawa.
– Antonio C. S. Rosa, Editor, TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS.
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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 27 Aug 2018.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: World Scholars, Artists, Activists Call for Demilitarization of Okinawa, is included. Thank you.
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