A grand, and massively unequal, struggle over the future of Japan is underway. At sea, a miniscule flotilla of canoes and kayaks confronts a solid wall of National Coastguard ships and on land a few hundred protesters face off 24 hours a day against riot police outside Camp Schwab Marine Corps base, trying in vain to halt the delivery of materials for the construction of a new Marine Corps base on Oura Bay.
As Okinawa struggles to assert and give shape to its new form of “All Okinawa” politics, its struggle is waged against the backdrop of nation-wide indifference, reinforced by the silence of the press, amounting to a national consensus of support for the discrimination and violent repression meted out by the be government, a contemporary soryokusen (All-Out War) in which Abe’s “All Japan” brings to bear the “irresistible force” of state power upon the “immovable object” of “All Okinawa” resistance.
Should the state now proceed to crush, divide, and remove that resistance, the crystallization of an unprecedented prefectural consensus, the humiliation would likely outrank all those of previous history – whether assimilation by punishment in 1879, reversion without reversion in 1972, or return of Futenma, repeatedly promised but repeatedly denied and postponed, since 1996 – since never has there been a consensus across Okinawan society in the past. By the end of 2015, Okinawan constitutional and democratic forces will either have forced unprecedented change of direction upon the national government or they will have suffered devastating defeat.
The Japan Problem and the Okinawa Problem
The Okinawa crisis is rooted in the East Asian disposal wrought at high diplomatic level by the agreements of 1951, 1972, 1996, and 2006 (Guam). First, the San Francisco Treaty severed it from Japan as the war state to complement mainland Japan’s peace state, then its “reversion” to Japan was manipulated so as to maintain the priority of war and military matters over all else. Then, in 1996 Futenma “reversion” was likewise a sham, turning out to be dependent upon the prior construction and handover of a much superior, multi-functional facility. The grim reality for Okinawa is that, sixty-four years after the San Francisco Treaty, US forces still occupy 20 per cent of the land of Okinawa Island and concentrate three-quarters of all US military presence in the country, while base authorities retain a sovereign authority little diminished from the time when the island was under direct US military rule.
The base “system” ratified under the San Francisco Treaty in 1951 restored sovereignty to Japan at the price of splitting Okinawa from it under total US military control, reserving the right to maintain bases elsewhere throughout the country wherever and for however long it felt necessary, and retaining fundamental levers of control over national government policy.1 That system has of course evolved, but without change to its fundamentals. Japan’s qualified sovereignty of 1952 steadily deepened into the “client state” relationship of the early 21st century,2 despite feeble attempts to reduce or even reverse the path of dependency, notably under the Hosokawa and Hatoyama governments (1993-1994 and 2009-2010). The two governments of Abe Shinzo, from 2006 to 2007 and again from 2012, have pursued the reverse process – accelerating and deepening clientelism,3 masked by nationalist cover, or what Nakano Koichi refers to as “Air Nationalism.”4
Through 2014, Okinawan civil society delivered powerful messages to the government in Tokyo, to the nation, and to the government of the United States on three major fronts. In January, citizens of Nago City returned to office its mayor, Inamine Susumu, who was an uncompromising opponent of any base construction within the city (and in September, Inamine supporters retained control of the City Assembly); in November, the Okinawan electorate decisively rejected the Governor, Nakaima Hirokazu, who had reneged on his pledge to oppose base construction and issued the permit the government needed to commence reclamation of Oura Bay, electing in his stead (by the unprecedented majority of over 100,000 votes (380,820 to 261,076), a candidate (Onaga Takeshi) committed to doing “everything in my power” to stop construction at Henoko, close Futenma Air Base, and have the Marine Corps’ controversial Osprey MV 22 aircraft withdrawn from the prefecture (therefore stopping the construction of “Osprey Pads” for them in the Yambaru forest, also in Northern Okinawa); and in December all four Okinawan local constituencies elected anti-base construction candidates to the lower house in the National Diet.5
The November election of Onaga as Governor was the key event, a resounding “No” to the national government’s Okinawan agenda. If justice and democracy meant anything, the Okinawan people reasoned, then surely now the Japanese state would concede that their will had been clear beyond a shadow of doubt and therefore abandon the project to impose upon them one more massive military installation.
For Abe, construction of the Henoko base is a core national policy, fundamental to the relationship between Japan and the United States, whereas Okinawa late in 2014 chose a Governor committed to “employ all resources at my disposal” to stop the project. Likewise, not only is the Abe government determined to support the deployment of Osprey MV 22 aircraft to Okinawa, but it considers equipping the Self-Defense Forces with them, whereas Onaga has pledged to have them withdrawn from Okinawa (which also means, implicitly, stopping the construction of “Osprey pads” in the northern Okinawa forests designed to accommodate them). The Abe government is also committed to the deployment of Japanese Self-Defense Forces into the frontier islands, including Yonaguni, despite evidence of a divided island opinion (as witness the February 2015 referendum, discussed below).37 Even before Onaga’s election, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga insisted that Okinawan opinion was irrelevant,6 After it, he simply repeated that the die was cast, the procedures prescribed by law had been met and the government would proceed “shukushuku to” (solemnly) with construction.7
Abe Shinzo, re-elected in December 2014, stands a reasonable chance of remaining in office until 2018, and therefore has time and, apparently, the resolve, to proceed to remake the Japanese state, liquidating the post-war regime and replacing it with his conception of a “new” and “beautiful” Japan. Within that Japan, the key raison d’etre for Okinawa has to be as a joint US-Japan bastion projecting force where required for the regional and global hegemonic project. But to push ahead successfully with that agenda, he must first defeat the Okinawan challenge. Elsewhere, few dare to challenge or oppose this radical program, in the Diet opposition is in disarray, resistance fragmented and minimal, but in Okinawa opposition is serious and enjoys wide support. It is also, since 2014, marked by a new strategy, that of “All Okinawa” (discussed below).
Abe moves Japan’s defence and security systems closer to full integration with those of the US, commits to construct major new facilities for the latter in Okinawa, Guam and the Marianas, and for the Japanese self-Defense Forces on the Southwestern islands of Amami, Miyako, Ishigaki and Yonaguni, and he proceeds towards setting up Japanese versions of the CIA and the Marine Corps (an “amphibious rapid deployment brigade”). While much of his history and identity agenda (Yasukuni, Comfort Women, war memory) alarms Washington, his security agenda plainly pleases it. He may be seen as the personification of the contradictions of the post-war and post-San Francisco treaty system. ...