Okinawa Urges Government To Reduce Tensions With China

USA Japan Ship in South China Sea

The governor of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa said Friday: Japan should focus more on peaceful diplomacy with China instead of on military deterrence as tensions rise around Chinese-claimed Taiwan.

He also urged that the burden on Okinawa of hosting a majority of the American troops in Japan be reduced.

Media reports said:

“We are strongly alarmed,” Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki said of discussions in parliament about the possibility of a security emergency involving Taiwan, and concerns that Okinawa, 600 kilometers (370 miles) away, could become embroiled in it.

Tamaki was speaking online from the prefectural capital of Naha ahead of the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s return to Japan on May 15, 1972, 20 years after most of Japan regained independence from the U.S. occupation following World War II.

There is concern in Okinawa, with its continuing heavy U.S. military presence, over rising tensions resulting from China’s increasingly assertive military actions in the region and its rivalry with the U.S.

“Any escalation of problems over the Taiwan Strait and the contingency of Okinawa being a target of attack must never happen or be allowed to happen,” Tamaki said.

Noting that China is Japan’s biggest trading partner and that Japan is China’s second largest, Tamaki said their close economic ties are indispensable.

“I call for the Japanese government to always maintain calm and peaceful diplomacy and dialogue to improve its relations with China, while working toward easing U.S.-China tension,” he said.

Okinawa at the time of its reversion asked Japan to make it a peaceful island free of military bases. Today, it still hosts a majority of the approximately 50,000 U.S. troops and their military facilities in Japan, and Tamaki said that burden should be shared by all of Japan.

Because of the U.S. bases, Okinawa faces noise, pollution, aircraft accidents and crime related to American troops on a daily basis, Tamaki said.

“That excessive U.S. base burden is still unresolved 50 years after the reversion,” he said. “Okinawa’s burden of the U.S. military bases is a key diplomatic and security issue that concerns all Japanese people.”

While development projects over the past five decades have helped Okinawa’s economy, the average Okinawan’s income remains the lowest among Japan’s 47 prefectures, Tamaki said.

If land taken by the U.S. military is returned to the prefecture for other use, it would produce three times as much income for Okinawa, Tamaki said.

The ongoing tension has rekindled fears among Okinawans that they may be sacrificed again by mainland Japan, as in the Battle of Okinawa that killed some 200,000 people, half of them civilians, near the end of World War II.

The biggest sticking point between Okinawa and Tokyo is the central government’s insistence that a U.S. Marine base in a crowded neighborhood, Futenma air station, be relocated within Okinawa instead of moving it elsewhere as demanded by many Okinawan people.

Japan has been shifting its troops to defend southwestern islands including Okinawa and its outer islands, deploying missile defense systems and other facilities, and increasing joint drills with the U.S. military and other regional partners.

Excuses For Its Military Expansion

Other media reports said:

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Japan “has been taking advantage of diplomatic activities to make an issue of China, play up regional tensions and hype the so-called China threat,” and that Tokyo is “looking for excuses for its military expansion.”

China has accused Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of “provoking confrontation” between China and major powers after Tokyo and London signed a landmark pact to “rapidly accelerate” defence and security ties.

On the final leg of his five-nation Asian and European tour, Kishida signed a reciprocal access agreement with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday and – in a veiled swipe at China – vowed to help realize a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused Kishida of fanning anti-China sentiment on his trip to Britain, Italy, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, saying the visits were an attempt to expand Japan’s military power – something prohibited under its pacifist constitution.

“The Japanese side frequently uses diplomatic activities to talk about China, play up regional tensions, and hype the so-called China threat. What Japan is doing is [trying to] find an excuse for its own expansion of military power, and to undermine the trust and cooperation of countries in the region.”

Beijing was particularly incensed by Kishida’s comments on Taiwan.

In a press conference with Johnson after their meeting, the Japanese leader said: “Peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is critical not only for Japan’s security but also for the stability of international society.”

He vowed that Japan and its allies would “never tolerate a unilateral attempt to change the status quo by the use of force in the Indo-Pacific, especially in East Asia”.

“Ukraine may be East Asia tomorrow,” Kishida warned, likening Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a runaway province, to Ukraine, which Russia invaded on February 24.

Zhao said China firmly opposed Kishida’s assessment.

“The Taiwan issue is entirely China’s internal affair and cannot be compared with the Ukraine issue,” he said.

“Japan bears historical guilt towards the Chinese people on the Taiwan issue, and should be more cautious in its words and deeds, and has absolutely no right to make irresponsible remarks.

“If Japan really wants peace and stability in East Asia, it should immediately stop provoking confrontation between major powers and do more things that are conducive to enhancing mutual trust among regional countries and promoting regional peace and stability.”

Beijing was initially hopeful that Kishida, who took office in October, would be more dovish on China than his conservative predecessors Yoshihide Suga and Shinzo Abe.

Instead, there are growing signs that China’s already strained relations with Japan will dip further, with the Kishida administration edging closer to Washington and actively forging an anti-China alliance in the region, according to observers.

“It has become clear that our expectations were misplaced. Japan is not just following the U.S. in countering China, it is actually trying to exploit the differences between Beijing and Washington to boost its own geopolitical influence and seek military build-up,” said Liu Jiangyong, an expert on regional affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Along with an agreement to share ammunition and supplies, the broad pact on defence cooperation between Japan and Britain will enable faster troop deployment and foster joint training and disaster relief efforts.

Japan recently signed a similar pact with Australia.

Benoit Hardy-Chartrand, an international affairs expert at Temple University in Tokyo, said the deal was important because it showed that Japan was serious about strengthening defence partnerships with other allies and partners, including outside the Indo-Pacific region.

“It also underscores the UK’s stated desire to play a greater role in Asia, a desire that has also been expressed by an increasing number of European countries,” he said.

“Despite the fact that global attention has been rightly focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this deal also shows that in the long term, most Western partners intend on allocating more resources to the Indo-Pacific, with Japan being a key partner.”

UK’s Further Tilt Toward The Indo-Pacific

Zhou Chenming, a Beijing-based military analyst, said the Japanese-British deal was worrying because it reflected both London’s further tilt toward the Indo-Pacific and Tokyo’s geopolitical ambitions.

“There is little detail available about the new agreement, but it will surely have a negative impact on the regional situation,” Zhou said.

“On top of its obsession with the situation in Hong Kong, a hot-button issue in China’s rivalry with the West, Britain’s attempts to get more involved in the sensitive geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific may fuel tensions and lead to crises.”

Zhou noted the signing of the London-Tokyo pact also coincided with efforts by Aukus, a trilateral security grouping formed last year by the US, Britain and Australia, to enlist Japan in their military maneuvering in the region.

Following a Japan trip next week by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, U.S. President Joe Biden will also visit Tokyo later this month, with China and the Ukraine war high on the agenda.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also visited Japan last week in his first official trip to East Asia, skipping Berlin’s top trading partner China.


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