‘US, Tokyo sing same song on Okinawa base’

Marines board a KC-130J Hercules aircraft at the U.S. Futenma airbase in Ginowan, on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. © Lance Cpl. David N. Hersey / U.S. Marine Corps
It’s unlikely that the US would give up on the idea of the construction of a new military base on Okinawa since it’s too important for them to contain China, says Dr. Tim Beal, an Asia specialist, researcher and author.

Locals fear the base could make them a real target in case a conflict breaks out, among other reasons for not wanting the new facility.

RT: Japan said last week it would suspend for a month the construction of US air base on the island of Okinawa in order to give time for talks between the Japanese central government and island authorities opposed to the facility. What do you think is behind the move?

Tim Beal: It’s obviously been a response to huge amount of pressure in Okinawa: we’ve had Okinawa governor [Takeshi Onaga] going to Washington, and so forth. There’s been a lot of political protest, but what is that going to achieve is not a matter. I think, the base is so important for the US that whatever protests the Okinawans make, will eventually be overruled. I will be very surprised if anything else happens apart from that. So that is probably a cosmetic public relations exercise.

READ MORE: Japan halts construction of US base in Okinawa for ‘concentrated discussions’ with local authorities

RT: Do you think Okinawans are able to achieve their goal, and get rid of US bases on their territory? If yes, when is it going to happen?

TB:  Sometime in the future - that will be my presumption. I don’t think that the local people have enough power and authority. It depends partly on whether they can raise protest on the Japanese mainland, obviously there is a lot of feeling about that. We’ve just had Hiroshima Day, so we’ve had the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki making their speeches about nuclear weapons. And that has brought into focus the plans of [Prime Minister] Shinzo Abe for the remilitarization of Japan. So these things are in the air at the moment; the Japanese are very conscious of them.

It rather depends on how much the protests convey interaction within Japan, and also within the US. It’s the Americans of course - American military - that wants these bases to contain China. The American public should be very much concerned with this as well. So the politics are very complex and global: they involve the Okinawans, the mainland Japanese, and of course the Americans as well as other people around the world.

Protesters raise placards during a rally to oppose the transfer of a key U.S. military base within the prefecture, at a baseball stadium in the prefectural capital Naha on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, in this photo taken by Kyodo May 17, 2015. © Kyodo

RT: Does Shinzo Abe’s government support the idea of the construction of the base?

TB: The Japanese government, the Shinzo Abe’s administration and the American government are together on this. They are singing the same song. What the people in Okinawa can do about that is another matter - they can protest, they can raise awareness within Japan, within the US, within the global community. […But] I think the bases are far too important for the Americans to give up. That is a main base to contain China. Apart from this they have the bases in the Pacific, in Guam, and they have the bases in South Korea. But Japan is a main forward base in East Asia.

READ MORE: 'Go home!' Japan PM heckled over US bases in Okinawa during WWII ceremony

RT: Why Okinawans oppose the construction of the US military base?

TB: From reports it’s getting clear that there is huge amount of opposition to the bases. The bases are pretty unpopular, they cause lot of social destruction. You have stories of soldiers raping girls, and all that sort of stuff. It obviously brings a lot of money to the local economy. But it also makes Okinawa a target.

If conflict does break out in East Asia, Okinawa is a prime target. Everyone is going to hit on it: the Chinese would hit it, the Russians would hit it, the North Koreans would hit it. …From the point of view of Okinawa it is a dangerous situation to be in. As I understand it, the local people are very united in this - in opposing the bases, and that will continue.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.