Thursday, December 08, 2016

Spotlight: Political uncertainty, loaded gov't promises add to anti-U.S. sentiment in "occupied" Okinawa

Source: Xinhua   2016-12-07 21:35:20   

TOKYO, Dec. 7 (Xinhua) -- The people of Okinawa will take little comfort from the latest outcome of talks pertaining to the United States' burgeoning military presence in Japan's southernmost prefecture, particularly considering current geopolitical situation and the mainland's propensity to kowtow to Big Brother, observers here said Wednesday.
Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter held talks in Tokyo on Wednesday amid uncertain times as Washington is on the cusp of seeing an untested and unpredictable leader at its helm, who has already insinuated a security shift regarding U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa.
Political watchers here have noted that while U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's remarks about Japan not paying enough for U.S. security support may have initially given the locals in Okinawa some hope that their base hosting burdens may finally be reduced, the current state of ambiguity regarding bilateral ties between Japan and the U.S. is merely fueling the fire of uncertainty and anti-U.S. sentiment in Okinawa.
"Both sides reaffirmed a prior deal that would see the U.S. return half of the land of a large U.S. training facility in Okinawa that would mean around 4,000 hectares would be returned to Okinawa, but the deal is loaded in the U.S.'s favor due to the helipad stipulation," Asian affairs commentator Kaoru Imori told Xinhua.
"This will do virtually nothing to relieve Okinawans of their base hosting burdens, as of late, one of the main sources of discontent along with future hosting-linked uncertainties, is the Osprey's training drills and the fact that locals in the vicinity of the aircrafts' flight paths are living in constant fear," Imori said.
Imori was referring to a 1996 pact made between Tokyo and Washington to reduce the U.S. military's footprint on the sub-tropical island, as Okinawa hosts the majority of the U.S. forces in Japan, yet accounts for a tiny fraction of its total land mass.
According to the deal, both the Japanese and the U.S. governments agreed that 4,000 hectares of the 7,800-hectare Northern Training Area in the villages of Kunigami and Higashi would be returned to Okinawa, provided that six helipads are relocated to the remaining area.
And while the work began in 2007, only two helipads have been completed so far with concerns rife in the region that an increased number of helipads will lead to increased drills by the controversial and accident-prone Ospreys.
Okinawa officials and residents opposed to their disproportionate base hosting duties compared to mainland Japan, are quick to point out that the Ospreys are far from reliable and are contributing to fears and unease on the tiny sub-tropical island.
The planes' safety was called into question most recently by local officials and citizens here in May last year when an MV-22B Osprey crashed in Hawaii, leaving two dead and 20 more injured and in August a year earlier, concerns about the plane were further stoked here when four crew members narrowly escaped injury when a Marine Corps' Osprey made a "hard landing" near the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, in the United States.
Prior to that, in April 2012, an Osprey crashed in Morocco and killed two Marines and another crash in Florida in June 2012 injured all five crew members.
Thirty Marines lost their lives in three crashes, including 19 in a single accident in Arizona, in 2000, during the Osprey's developmental phase, launching the plane's checkered safety record, and in 2010 an Air Force CV-22, each of which costs around 100 million U.S. dollars, touched down short of its landing zone in Afghanistan, hit a ditch, and flipped over, killing four Marines.
The planes are also known for creating an unbearable amount of noise due to their massive turboprop engines.
A court in Japan handed down a ruling in October ordering the state to pay 558 million yen (4.88 million U.S. dollars) in damages to residents over excessive noise from aircraft stationed at the Iwakuni base, which is jointly used by the U.S. military and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in Yamaguchi Prefecture, in the Chugoku region on Japan's main island of Honshu.
The Yamaguchi District Court ordered the unprecedented penalty for excessive noise at the base to the residents in the locale in western Japan, with lawyers seeking compensation to the tune of 1.8 billion yen for the residents' prior exposure to excessive noise and a further 23,000 yen in compensation payable monthly per person for future noise that would have to be endured.
The judge presiding over the case fully acknowledged in handing down his verdict that the residents in the vicinity of the airbase had "suffered psychologically and sustained health damage," and accepted that even the residents' ability to "hold a basic conversation or sleep normally" had been severely disrupted by the level of noise from the aircrafts.
The plaintiffs at the time also petitioned the central government to suspend some of the flights from the base and called for U.S. fighter jets flying to Iwakuni from the Atsugi base near Tokyo, that are involved in aircraft carrier maneuvers, to be canceled, as well as a blanket ban on all flights from the notorious, accident-prone MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircrafts.
For the locals in Okinawa, however, such damaging nuisances have been tolerated for years with the aggravation showing no signs of letting up.
As local media reported Wednesday, a U.S. Marine Corps' MV-22 Osprey aircraft in Okinawa repeatedly flew over residential areas on Tuesday, transporting an unidentified object suspended below its airframe by cables.
But it is not just military hardware that makes the lives of ordinary citizens living in Okinawa so unbearable, Imori said.
"As something of an authority on the matter and as a Japanese citizen, I can barely remember a time when the island (of Okinawa) wasn't being rocked by instances of crime."
"Despite the efforts of both governments to tighten the rules governing how U.S. military personnel committing crimes are dealt with, the crimes committed up until now have been as heinous as can be, with no real guarantee of a reduction as long as there are so many bases located on the inland," said Imori.
In May this year, one such crime made global headlines and involved a U.S. base-linked worker who had previously served as a Marine being arrested for the rape and murder of a young girl in Okinawa.
The odious slaughtering of the base worker's victim was preceded by numerous drink driving incidents, another account of rape by a serviceperson in a hotel in Naha, Okinawa's capital city, and an unprovoked, vicious assault by a high-ranking military official on a young Japanese female student onboard a commercial flight to Japan.
The islanders this year have been particularly vociferous about their objection to hosting U.S. forces and 65,000 protestors united in calling for the U.S. military on the island to withdraw completely in June this year. This was the largest rally the island has seen since Okinawans took to the streets in the days after three U.S. servicemen viciously raped an elementary schoolgirl in 1995 -- an abominable crime that still haunts the consciousness of Okinawans of all generations.
Observers close to the matter maintain that it is apparent that anti-U.S. sentiment is steadily on the rise in Japan's southernmost prefecture and Okinawans are adamant that the central government and the U.S. returning all the land used by the bases and relocating the troops off the island is the only way for them to ever hope to lead normal lives and not feel like they are under wartime "occupation."

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