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In-depth Examining Okinawa Today
Thinking About Okinawa: The Regional Security Context

The Japan-US security setup and moves by China have a major bearing on prospects for the US bases in Okinawa. In the last of a three-part series, political experts consider the regional security context and domestic political situation relating to the “Okinawa problem.”

Miyagi Taizō (Moderator)

Miyagi Taizō (Moderator)Professor, Faculty of Global Studies, Sophia University. Born in 1968. Was a journalist with NHK after earning a degree in law from Rikkyō University. Went on to graduate school at Hitotsubashi University. Was an assistant professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies before taking his present position. Works include “Kaiyō kokka” Nihon no sengoshi (Japan’s Postwar History as a Maritime State) and Sengo Ajia chitsujo no mosaku to Nihon: “Umi no Ajia” no sengoshi 1957–1966 (Japan and Southeast Asia in the Quest for Order: The Cold War, Decolonization, and Development, 1957-1966).

Endō Seiji

Endō SeijiProfessor, Faculty of Law, Department of Political Science, Seikei University. Born in 1962 in Shiga Prefecture. Received a master’s degree in law from the Graduate School of Law and Politics, University of Tokyo. Became an associate professor at Seikei University in 1993 and professor in 2001. Has held academic positions at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford University (1995 and 2010), and at Wellesley College (1996). Is the author or editor of Gurōbarizēshon to wa nani ka (What Is Globalization?), Futenma kichi mondai kara nani ga miete kita ka (The Repercussions of the Futenma Base Issue), Shirīzu: Nihon no anzen hoshō (Series: Japan’s National Security), and other works.

Taira Yoshitoshi

Taira YoshitoshiResearch associate, Regional Comprehensive Research Institute, Dokkyō University. Concurrently a lecturer at Hōsei University. Born in Okinawa in 1972. Graduated from the College of Law, Okinawa International University, in 1995 and completed coursework for a master’s degree at the Graduate School of International Relations, Tokyo International University (2001), and for a doctorate at the Graduate School of Social Sciences, Hōsei University (2008). Holds a doctorate in political science. Works include Sengo Okinawa to Beigun kichi: “Juyō” to “kyozetsu” no hazama de 1945–1972 (Postwar Okinawa and US Military Bases: Between Acceptance and Refusal, 1945-1972).

An Unequal Relationship Forged Under Postwar Occupation

MIYAGI TAIZŌ  We’ve heard your thoughts on the current situation regarding the US bases in Okinawa and about the widening perception gap between the mainland and the island prefecture. Next I’d like to ask you about the future prospects for the Okinawa problem in the context of East Asian security.

TAIRA YOSHITOSHI  Ever since the administration of Ikeda Hayato [1960–64], the Liberal Democratic Party has espoused a security stance that takes the pacifist provisions of Article 9 of the Constitution as a given and seeks safety for Japan in the security treaty with the United States. I think it’s quite difficult to find a solution for the issue of the US bases in Okinawa under this two-part security policy.

On the knotty issue of relocating Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, for example, I believe the key question is why Japan is unable to tell the United States to move it outside the country. In his book Kokubōgun to wa nani ka [The Meaning of “National Defense Forces”], Ishiba Shigeru answers this question quite straightforwardly: Because of the restraints imposed by Article 9, Japan cannot supply military forces, so instead it provides bases to the United States, which defends Japan in return. Under this asymmetrical relationship, when the Americans say, “We can’t defend Japan unless we have this base,” we can’t compel them to return it. As Ishiba puts it, it’s very hard for the Japanese side to tell the Americans we want them out [of a base or bases] because they’re getting in our way. With this reference to the asymmetrical nature of the bilateral security treaty, he explains why Tokyo can’t tell Washington to move the Futenma facility outside of Japan.

To extend that explanation, I believe that we are operating under a “Japan-US Security Treaty setup” that took shape during the post–World War II Allied Occupation. This is a concept from my master’s degree program faculty advisor, according to whom the six years and eight months of the US-led Occupation gave rise to a setup under which Japan is subordinate to the United States politically, militarily, and even psychologically. And it’s this setup, I believe, that keeps Tokyo from pressing Washington to relocate the Futenma facility outside of Japan.

As Ishiba puts it in his book, it would be a different story if the Japan-US relationship were one between equals. This was what people like Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru hoped to achieve in the early postwar period. It would mean revising the Constitution, recognizing the right of collective self-defense, and cooperating with the Americans on a people-to-people basis—in other words, turning Japan into a country that is not merely defended by the United States but that also helps defend the United States in return. If we had this sort of bilateral relationship with the United States, Ishiba explains, Tokyo would be in a position to tell Washington, “We’ll extend our defense range as far as Guam, so pull your forces out of Okinawa and move them there.” This could be presented not as a supplicant’s petition but as a partner’s demand.

Whether the idea of seeking this sort of relationship is a good one or not, in logical terms, it’s a valid option for resolving the issue of the bases in Okinawa. I’m not sure what Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s personal views are on this matter, but I might note that Foreign Minister Shigemitsu’s thinking was shared by Kishi Nobusuke [prime minister 1957–60], Abe’s grandfather, whom he respects.

Meanwhile, those on the liberal side, the members of the camp that wants to preserve the current Constitution, don’t have a viable way of dealing with the issue. The pacifism of Article 9 is paired with the existence of the Japan-US Security Treaty. So opposition to collective self-defense as unconstitutional means upholding not just the current Constitution, including Article 9, but also keeping the bilateral security treaty as it is. And in this case, I fail to see how it will be possible to scale back the US military presence in Okinawa.

The members of the liberal camp need to come up with a plan that combines respect for the pacifist spirit of Article 9 with concrete, specific means for maintaining Japan’s security—and that will also make it possible to downsize the US bases in Okinawa. Unless they can come up with this sort of concrete proposal, I don’t think they can hope to win on an intellectual level against the position set forth by people like Ishiba. As I see it, this is the prime intellectual challenge that they face.

The Importance of a Stable Japan-US Relationship

ENDŌ SEIJI  It seems to me also that the preserve-the-Constitution camp hasn’t fully grasped the significance of the security-treaty setup. In the context of the Cold War the United States went to war in places including Korea and Vietnam here in East Asia, and it also backed dictatorships, and so to the members of this camp it probably looked like an imperialistic power bent on expansion and aggression. But the Obama administration that came to power following the experiences of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has taken a consistently cautious approach.

I personally believe that it’s very important for Japan and the United States to maintain a stable relationship of political cooperation in the face of the instability in the international environment, where mutual mistrust is liable to grow. I don’t think that it’s a good idea for Tokyo to toe Washington’s line in exercising collective self-defense in the context of international relations in East Asia, but I do think that we need to maintain our close security relationship with the United States as a framework for political cooperation, just as the countries of Europe have continued to participate in NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization] as a cooperative political framework even after the end of the Cold War that this military alliance was created to respond to.

I don’t believe we can suddenly eliminate the military functions of the Japan-US security setup entirely and move to a purely political relationship. But I did think that the concept of an “East Asian Community” represented one approach that might promote the relaxation of tensions in the region while lessening the military elements of the Japan-US security relationship—though not removing them entirely.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s administration [2009–10] set forth this regional community concept in a careless manner, without concrete preparation or staging, instead of approaching it initially by thinking of how it could act as a supplement to Japan’s security cooperation with the United States. That sort of approach can’t get us anywhere.

The United States isn’t preparing to go to war with China, and in the context of today’s East Asia, Japan should cooperate firmly with the United States and take the initiative in building a regional order in which our relationship with China is not a hostile one. As I see it, we can’t hope to resolve the problem of the bases in Okinawa unless we undertake this sort of process to reduce tensions in East Asia as a whole.

One condition for this process is China’s active participation in reducing tensions. Unfortunately, though, China’s current behavior makes it hard to be optimistic about the prospects.

  • [2015.09.18]
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  • Thinking About Okinawa: The Widening Perception GapThe perception gap between Okinawans and mainland Japanese appears to be growing by the day as Okinawa steps up its opposition to plans that would keep a controversial US Marine Corps installation within the prefecture. In the second of a three-part series, political experts probe the meaning of “Okinawan independence” in the context of the base problem and assess the prospects for a resolution.
  • Thinking About Okinawa: A Historical Perspective on the US Military PresenceOkinawa Governor Onaga Takeshi’s staunch opposition to the Futenma relocation plan has deepened the rift between the local and central governments. In the first of a three-part series, political experts shed light on the issues involving US bases in Okinawa, host to 74% of American military installations in Japan.
  • The Okinawa Issue and East Asian SecurityThe knotty problem of relocating US Marines Air Station Futenma in Okinawa casts a shadow over prospects for the US military presence there. Meanwhile, China’s expansionist strategy presents a major challenge for Japan and the United States. Respected foreign policy commentator Okamoto Yukio explains the background and regional implications.
  • Okinawan Identity and the Struggle for Self-DeterminationSince Onaga Takeshi’s successful campaign for governorship of Okinawa last fall, “Okinawan identity” has emerged as a rallying cry for unified opposition to plans for a replacement facility for US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma inside Okinawa Prefecture. Okinawan political scientist and activist Shimabukuro Jun explores the meaning of Okinawan identity in a historical context, focusing on the postwar experience of “structural discrimination.”

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