Okinawa Governor Blocks Controversial US Marine Base

March 24th, 2015 - by admin

Justin McCurry / The Guardian & Jon Mitchell / Japan Times & ABC News – 2015-03-24 22:06:43

Escalation in dispute poses diplomatic headache for prime minister Shinzo Abe and threatens to sour relations between Japan and the US

Okinawa Governor Blocks
Controversial US Marine Base

Justin McCurry / The Guardian

TOKYO (March 23, 2015) — The governor of a southern Japanese island, home to tens of thousands of American troops, has triggered a potentially bitter confrontation with Tokyo and Washington after he ordered a halt to the construction of a controversial US marine base.

Takeshi Onaga, who was elected governor of Okinawa last December on the back of vowing to block construction of the base, instructed Japan’s defence ministry to suspend work at the site after local officials found builders had damaged coral reefs when they laid concrete blocks to help conduct underwater boring surveys.

He told reporters that unless the Okinawa defence bureau, which is overseeing construction, did not halt work immediately, authorities would revoke its drilling permit within days.
The ultimatum raises the possibility of a drawn-out legal battle over an issue that has divided Tokyo and local leaders, and soured relations between Japan and the US.

The anti-base lobby believes that without the drilling permits, construction workers will be unable to carry out surveys needed before land can be reclaimed for the base’s runway.
Monday’s escalation in the dispute poses a diplomatic headache for the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who supports construction of the new base.

US defence officials say the new base, which is expected to cost at least $8.6bn (£5.8bn), is an essential part of the White House’s strategic “pivot” towards the Asia-Pacific, amid rising concern over Chinese military spending and North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.

The facility, whose offshore runway would be built in the pristine waters off the island’s secluded north-east coast, is intended as a replacement for Futenma, a sprawling airbase located in the middle of a densely populated area further south.

Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said any attempt to delay the project would be “very disappointing”, adding: “We are going to continue with construction work without delay.”

Japan and the US agreed to close Futenma and move troops and hardware to a new location after the rape and abduction of a 12-year-old in 1995 by three US servicemen sparked widespread protests against the American military presence on the island.

In a concession to residents, the US also agreed to transfer about 8,000 troops and their families to Guam and Hawaii. Futenma, however, remains operational amid delays caused by indecision by previous Japanese administrations and mounting local opposition.

The relocation plan appeared to have gathered momentum in late 2013 when the then governor of Okinawa, Hirokazu Nakaima, dropped his opposition to granting permits for land reclamation at the new site. Soon after, though, Nakaima was punished at the polls by voters who saw his about-turn as a betrayal, accusing him of being taken in by Abe’s promises of new investment in the island’s economy.

Okinawa, about 1,000 miles south of Tokyo, hosts more than half of the 47,000 US troops in Japan and three-quarters of US bases. Many Okinawans, angered by pollution, crimes involving servicemen and the risk of aircraft accidents, are demanding that Futenma be closed and any replacement be built outside of the island.

Campaigners say the new base, with its v-shaped offshore runway, would cause irreparable damage to the marine ecosystem, home to one of the world’s few dugong — a large see mammal related to the manatee — populations, and threaten public safety.

Construction work has been marred by clashes between protesters and Japanese security guards employed by the US military at the entrance to Camp Schwab, which lies close to the location for the base.

Other activists have taken to kayaks in an attempt to block the seabed drilling survey, sparking confrontations with the Japanese coastguard.

Protests Continue over US Okinawa Base

(March 9, 2015) — Protesters in Okinawa vented anger at the planned relocation of a US military base from Futema to Japan’s southernmost prefecture, Sunday. Holding signs critical. A decision by Japanese officials on the island of Okinawa to relocate a US military base has sparked a protest there.

Angry Japanese condemned the officials’. Okinawa, Japan protests US military base Japanese protests against US military bases in Okinawa Thousands protest in Tokyo against the Futenma move.

US Official Fired over
Leaked Video of Protester’s Arrest

Japan Times

(January 25, 2015) — Protesters in Okinawa vented anger at the planned relocation of a US military base from Futema to Japan’s southernmost prefecture, Sunday. Holding signs critical of the base, US foreign policy and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the protesters chanted slogans and waved placards including one depicting the country’s leader as a zombie.

US Marines Official Dismissed over
Okinawa Protest Video Leak

Jon Mitchell / The Japan Times

NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. (March 23, 2015) — The Pentagon has reportedly dismissed a senior US Marine Corps official in Okinawa following the leak of on-base surveillance video to a Japanese neo-nationalist group.

According to Japanese media, Robert Eldridge, deputy assistant chief of staff of government and external affairs, lost his job over the unauthorized release of footage from a security camera located within the marines’ Camp Schwab base in Nago city, northeastern Okinawa. The leaked film, which showed the arrest of Okinawan peace campaigner Hiroji Yamashiro last month, was uploaded to YouTube on March 9.

In response to inquiries from journalists in Okinawa, a US Marine Corps spokesman initially denied the footage had been leaked. However, on March 14 the military admitted the video had been released without authorization and pledged to punish the party involved.

Referring to Pentagon policy, US officials refrained from confirming that Eldridge had been held responsible. Requests by The Japan Times for comment from Eldridge and the US military in Okinawa have so far gone unanswered. Eldridge, a former academic, began working for the marines in 2009.

Yamashiro, chairman of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center, was arrested by base security guards at Camp Schwab for crossing its boundary line during a demonstration on Feb. 22. Following his detention, he was handed over to Japanese police, who released him the next day while they conduct further inquiries.

The arrest by security guards caused uproar on the island, since it was the first time that the Marine Corps has taken direct action against Okinawans protesting plans to build a new US facility in Nago to replace the troubled Futenma air base in Ginowan city in central Okinawa.

The surveillance video — which shows Yamashiro stepping over the installation’s yellow demarcation line — was apparently leaked to justify the arrest.

The footage was uploaded to YouTube by a user called “Tedokon Bogii,” who is believed to be a presenter for the far-right Internet TV network Channel Sakura. Dubbing itself a Japanese culture channel, Sakura’s programs regularly glorify Japan’s role in World War II; they also claim anti-base protests on Okinawa are the work of Chinese, Korean and communist agitators.

Last month The Japan Times revealed that Eldridge had appeared on Channel Sakura twice — including one appearance in January where he branded Okinawa protests “hate speech.” In comments on The Japan Times website, Eldridge also referred to Okinawan demonstrations as “mob rule” and claimed there had been “many physical attacks on Americans” by protesters.

In December, Eldridge and a Channel Sakura host were invited to talk on the Pentagon’s local military radio network, AFN Okinawa. United States Forces Japan did not reply to requests from The Japan Times to clarify who had authorized the joint appearance; the issue is currently the subject of US Freedom of Information Act proceedings.

Revelations of collaboration between the US military and Japanese neo-nationalists come at a critical time for Tokyo-Washington relations. Next month, newly appointed US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is expected to make his first visit to Japan to discuss, among other matters, the long-stalled Okinawa base relocation plan. The Japanese government insists it is committed to the project despite overwhelming opposition in Okinawa.

On Saturday, 3,900 demonstrators converged on Nago in one of the largest shows of Okinawan anger to date.

2015: In Appearance on far-right TV, US Official Calls Okinawa Base Protests ‘Hate Speech’
Jon Mitchell / Japan Times

(February 16, 2015) — In an appearance on a Japanese rightist TV network last month, a senior official with the US military branded anti-base demonstrations in Okinawa as “hate speech.”

Robert Eldridge, deputy assistant chief of staff of government and external affairs for the US Marine Corps, made the comments in Japanese during a show on the Okinawa branch of Channel Sakura on Jan. 8. While discussing what he called the unpleasant experiences encountered by some Americans in Okinawa, he explained to the presenter, “As you know, near Futenma there are people (committing) many kinds of hate speech.”

Eldridge’s comments were apparently aimed at residents engaged in demonstrations against the unpopular Futenma Marine Corps base in the city of Ginowan.

Channel Sakura, which styles itself a Japanese culture channel, is widely known for its glorification of Japan’s role in World War II and for airing shows that deny the Japanese military forced Korean women into sexual slavery. In 2007, its founder, Satoru Mizushima, directed the movie “The Truth About Nanjing,” which labeled the 1937-38 massacre — in which, according to mainstream historians, tens of thousands of Chinese were killed — a fabrication. Eldridge also appeared on Channel Sakura last September.

The US Embassy referred requests for comment to US Forces Japan. At the time of publication, neither USFJ nor Eldridge had responded to requests to confirm who had authorized the appearance on the TV network.

Manabu Sato, a professor in political science at Okinawa International University, criticized Eldridge’s comments.

“When the weak protest against the strong, that does not constitute ‘hate speech’ — no matter how painful the truth sounds to the ears of the US military. By appearing on such a TV network, the USMC is ruining the little goodwill Okinawa people hold toward it.”

Eldridge’s accusations of hate speech are the latest in a recent string of gaffes from senior officials affiliated with the US military in Okinawa. On Feb. 9, The Japan Times reported comments by Capt. Caleb Eames, deputy public affairs officer for the Marine Corps Installations Pacific, in which he accused demonstrators in Okinawa of faking their injuries in clashes with the police and Japan Coast Guard.

Eames later asserted that the comments were not an official statement.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 13, Japanese media reported that Maj. Tim Kao, the commander of Camp Gonsalves in northern Okinawa, had accused demonstrators in Okinawa of being “paid by the Communist Party.” The comments, which were apparently made on Feb. 5 to a visiting research student, angered local residents who have been attempting to block construction of Pentagon helipads in their community since 2007.

At a news conference Friday, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga expressed his indignation at the comments by US military officials. “They are very far from being good neighbors. I have serious doubts about what is at the root of such thinking,” he said.

2014: Okinawa Protests US Presence
Jon Herskovitz / ABC News

GINOWAN, OKINAWA (July 15, 2014) — Thousands of residents of Japan’s southernmost island of Okinawa held their biggest rally in years today against the presence of huge US military bases, just days before a world leaders’ summit there.

More than 6,500 people braved sweltering heat to take part in the rally, demanding a reduction in US forces in Okinawa and protesting against recent crimes allegedly committed by US servicemen based on the island. Banners reading “Peace now,” “Return the bases to Okinawa” and “Marines Out of Okinawa” fluttered in the sea breeze.

More than half a century of sharing the island with the US military was enough, said one speaker. “How many times do we have to hold rallies like this after terrible incidents? The people of Okinawa are tired of being treated as if they aren’t humans,” Suzuyo Takasato, a leading women’s rights activist, told the crowd.

Just this month, a US Marine was arrested for allegedly molesting a 14-year-old girl while she slept at her home and an airman was detained in a hit-an-run accident.

Goal: Embarrassment
The rally comes less than a week before the July 21-23 Group of Eight (G8) nations summit and is bound to prove embarrassing to the US military, which has faced years of protests over the bases on Okinawa and the conduct of its personnel. “They are holding the summit in the place that represents the greatest embarrassment to the Japanese government,” said parliament member Seiken Akamine of the Communist Party.

Security was tight at the event, with hundreds of police, most of them in plain clothes, around the rally site — a beach-front stage just a few miles from several US bases.

It was the biggest such rally since 1995, when the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen caused anti-base sentiment to boil over and more than 80,000 people gathered to demand the reduction and removal of US troops from the island.

Organizers of today’s rally said they were calling for measures to reduce crimes and improve the conduct of US troops as well as a cut in the overall military presence on the island. Several in the crowd said the summit would do little. “I don’t expect the problem with the bases to change because of the summit. But to commit crimes like this before the event is beyond belief,” said Kaoru Kinjo, 40, an office worker.

President Bill Clinton is due to arrive later next week, becoming the first US president to visit Okinawa since the United States handed it back to Japan in 1972. About 26,000 of the 48,000 US military personnel in Japan are stationed in Okinawa — just over one-quarter of the total US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

US Clamps Down
There is scant likelihood that the United States will quit Okinawa given the strategic importance it attaches to its presence there in case of conflict in East Asia. “The anti-base movement moves like magma,” the Okinawa daily Ryukyu Shimpo said in an editorial today, warning that simmering public anger could spark an eruption.

Residents of the island have long argued that with less than one percent of Japan’s land and one percent of its population, they bear an unfair burden. This week, Okinawa Vice-Governor Hideo Ishikawa led a delegation to Tokyo and met top US and Japanese officials to express concern over the recent alleged crimes.

The US military, seeking to prevent other incidents in the run-up to the G8, has imposed strict measures to reduce tensions and prevent further embarrassment involving its personnel. The steps include an indefinite late-night curfew and a ban on drinking both off and on the bases for all branches of the armed forces. The ban will last at least until after the summit.

US Ambassador Thomas Foley has offered a formal apology to Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono for the two recent incidents.

2000: Thousands Protest US Okinawa Base
ABC News

OKINAWA CITY, Japan (July 21, 2000) — Tens of thousands of protesters formed a chain around a major US air base today in a show of opposition to the American military presence in Japan. The demonstration, timed to coincide with President Clinton’s visit to this weekend’s Group of Eight summit in Okinawa, taps into what US military sources call a wave of anti-American sentiment across East Asia.

Clinton arrived early this morning at US Kadena air base, the largest US air base in Asia. He plans to leave the summit early Saturday, E.T., to arrive in Washington late Saturday to rejoin the Camp David talks by Sunday, learned today.

At the Cornerstone of Peace, a memorial to the American, Japanese and Korean soldiers who died in World War II on the beaches of Okinawa, Clinton sought to soothe the tensions over the US military presence on Okinawa. “We take seriously our responsibility to be good neighbors,” he said, ” and it is unacceptable to the United States when we do not meet that responsibility.”

He pledged to complete a process of consolidating US bases on Okinawa and “to reduce our footprint on this island.”

US bases take up about 20 percent of the island of Okinawa, with 30,000 troops stationed there.
There was no independent confirmation of the protesters’ numbers, but the demonstration appeared to be one of the largest anti-base protests in years. The human chain stretched for 11 miles around the air base. Organizers claimed to have mobilized more than 25,000 people for the chain — almost as many as the US servicemen and -women on Okinawa.

In several areas, the protesters stood three or four deep. Many wore headbands with anti-base slogans and came with their children. “As teachers, we have vowed never to send our students to war again,” said Isao Kaneshiro, head of a local teachers’ union. “I want President Clinton to know that we don’t want his troops here.”

The protest, organized by local labor unions and civic groups, was peaceful, and there were no reports of arrests or incidents.

US Military on Alert
The US Armed Services have taken security precautions across the Pacific region, imposing a curfew for troops on Okinawa and warning servicemen elsewhere to keep a low profile and avoid trouble.

US officials have also been warned by the Japanese government to expect “symbolic” terrorist attacks by protestors during the summit. Some 22,000 police, most flown in from other parts of Japan, have been deployed on Okinawa.

Senior US officials have been urging caution. “During these times when there are fundamental changes under way, there are likely to be political sentiments expressed, and we just have to be cautious about them,” said Defense Secretary William Cohen, traveling in Australia last week.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon conceded there are pockets of resistance in Okinawa, but said, “the majority of people in Japan and Korea want US troops to stay as a stabilizing influence.”

But Admiral Dennis Blair, commander in chief of all US forces in the Pacific was more blunt. “We haven’t buttoned up bases or any of that, but we still told people to watch out for each other, to be more careful because there’s more disturbances in the area and some prudent measures are being taken.”
A Turbulent History

Clinton is the first American president to visit Okinawa. Following Japan’s surrender in World War II, Washington governed Okinawa until 1972 — 20 years after the occupation of the rest of Japan had ended.
The United States has continued to use Okinawa as a major military outpost in the Pacific, however.
Nearly 30,000 of the 47,000 US troops in Japan are stationed on Okinawa, including the largest contingent of Marines outside the United States. Many Okinawans feel the presence is too heavy, and want it reduced or eliminated.

Okinawa’s residents have objected for years to the military base. Tensions mounted when, on July 3, a 19-year-old US Marine was accused of molesting a young girl after he allegedly broke into her house in drunken stupor. In another incident, a US Air Force serviceman was arrested on suspicion he left the scene of an accident after the car he was driving hit a pedestrian.
Regional Rumbles

Following the recent North -South Korea summit, public discontent over US military presence in the entire Pacific region has exacerbated. In Seoul, anti-American protests broke out after the US military dumped 20 gallons of formaldehyde in the local wastewater sewage system. US officials say they don’t believe they harmed the environment but they are investigating how the illegal dumping occurred.

In the last month, crimes against US personnel in Seoul’s Itaewon shopping district included the stabbing death of an Army doctor. In three separate incidents, US military and civilians were attacked by Koreans. US military officials in South Korea are responding to local unrest, issuing new warnings to troops to be careful.

The Show Goes On
Meanwhile, talks between world leaders have begun. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was the first leader to arrive, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who arrived late this afternoon, was the last.

Several leaders held bilateral meetings in Tokyo before flying on to Okinawa. Clinton was to hold a meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori today, but postponed that at the last minute to finish the Mideast peace talks being held at Camp David in the United States. (See related story).

US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers stood in for Clinton Thursday in Tokyo at pre-G-8 meeting with developing countries. He was accompanied by Gene Sperling, the national economic adviser, and Lael Brainard, deputy national economic adviser.

The G-8 consists of the United States, Japan, Russia, Britain, Italy, Canada, Germany and France. The group has held summits each year for the past 25 years.

This year’s summit was expected to focus on information technology and ways to alleviate the “digital divide, the gap in access to technology between developed and developing countries ” money laundering and financial crimes, debt relief for the world’s poorest nations and the global economy in general.
But the summit was also expected to be heavy on the photo-op.

The meetings are being held in the city of Nago, on the northern part of Okinawa, and officials are hoping it will put Okinawa on the international tourism map. Tourism is Okinawa’s most important source of income after the military bases.

Among the main activities planned for the leaders is a dinner and traditional dancing at Okinawa’s Shuri Castle, a remnant of the Okinawan dynasty that ruled these islands as a kingdom independent from Japan for nearly three centuries until it was assimilated in the late 1800s.

ABCNews’ Tamara Lipper in Okinawa, Barbara Starr in Washington and The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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