Okinawa, a Japanese island chain, observed the 50th anniversary of the end of US occupation and its return to Japan on Sunday with rituals and festivities, despite rising concern over its closeness to an increasingly aggressive China. Okinawa, a chain of tropical islands off the coast of far southwest Japan, far closer to Taiwan than Tokyo, was devastated by World War II. Two months of violent warfare between the US and Japanese forces killed up to a third of its population. Following it, the United States ruled for over 30 years.
The islands were ultimately restored to Japan on May 15, 1972, in what was considered as a hopeful step forward from the war’s sad legacy. Today, however, they continue to house the majority of US military bases in Japan, a devil’s bargain that has generated jobs while also fueling concerns about crime and military mishaps.
On May 15, 2022, the 50th anniversary of the southern island prefecture’s return to Japan from US sovereignty, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, left and visits the US military’s Camp Foster in Okinawa.
Now, as China asserts itself more assertively in the Pacific area, tensions are rising around Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing considers it’s own despite never having controlled. Okinawans are fearful that they may wind up on the frontlines once more.
“These are little islands,” a protester on Miyako, home of Japan’s newest army installation, remarked, declining to provide her name.“Constructing a military installation will not safeguard them, but instead make them a target of attack.”
Okinawans have long complained about bearing the disproportionate burden of hosting bases, and the topic has periodically provoked enormous protests. In a March survey of 812 Okinawans conducted by public broadcaster NHK, 56% indicated they strongly opposed US bases; barely a quarter of 1,115 persons outside the prefecture said the same.
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