Communist Party of Australia  


The Guardian

Current Issue

PDF Archive

Web Archive

Pete's Corner


Press Fund


About Us

Why you should ...

CPA introduction

Contact Us

facebook, twitter

Major Issues





Climate Change



What's On






Books, T-shirts, CDs/DVDs, Badges, Misc


Issue #1760      December 7, 2016

Voices for peace from the Asia-Pacific

Message from Okinawa

Kosuzu Abe is a professor at the University of Ryukyus*, in the faculty of Law and Letters in Okinawa in Japan. She was in Australia for the IPAN public forum on Pine Gap in Alice Springs on September 30 and joined the public cavalcade to Pine Gap that followed. Participants from around Australia as well as overseas joined the protest actions calling for the closure of the base. It was the 50th anniversary of the opening of the US spy base and communications station. There are striking parallels between the experiences of the people of Okinawa and Guam (see opposite) as they are subjected against their will to militarisation by US forces. Kosuzu spoke to Anna Pha from the Guardian.

Lisa Linda Natividad (left) and Kosuzu Abe (right) at the Peter Symon Building in Sydney.

Guardian: What was your purpose in taking part in the IPAN forum?

Kosuzu Abe: I wanted to share with the people of Australia what is going on in Okinawa with the training of US troops. I think I have important information for the people in Australia if you accept US troops and US military training in Darwin.

We have many examples of how the military harms the people living in Okinawa.

Okinawa prefecture has a population of approximately 1.4 million people. Now we have almost 50,000 base-related people. This 50,000 contains 27,000 uniformed service members plus 17,000 members of their families and 4,000 related civilians.

By related civilians I mean people hired by the military. We can estimate this 50,000 because recently when the US commander of the base in Okinawa apologised to the Japanese government for a recent rape and murder case, he said, “I represent the 50,000 members and families living at the base”.

We do not have an exact number of personnel but sometimes in such a case we can clearly get a number of how many there are.

Most of the US bases and facilities in Japan are concentrated on the main Island of Okinawa. Almost 18 percent of the island is occupied by US military facilities.

In 1996 the US and Japan governments agreed to a plan which they said was to reduce the burden on Okinawa of military bases and facilities. Seventy-four percent of all US military in Japan were concentrated in Okinawa which is 0.6 percent of the land area of Japan.

First they agreed to a relocation plan of the Stenmark Station which is for the Marine Corps which is located in the middle of the city area. The Japanese and US governments both agreed that the relocation would be within Okinawa.

G: Am I correct in recalling that following a big struggle by the people they initially agreed to remove it from Okinawa?

KA: There was a serious crime in 1995 in which a 12-year-old child was sexually abused by military personnel. After that in 1996, both governments agreed to a relocation plan and also they explained other plans to reduce the burden on Okinawa.

But actually, after that 20-year process we found that they had already had a blueprint for a relocation plan. We call this the SAKO agreement, the special relocation plan. SAKO is the abbreviation for the committee that issued the final report that both governments agreed to.

Many people said the SAKO agreement in 1996 related to the crime that happened in 1995 but we should be careful because there was already a blueprint.

They told us they were reducing the burden on Okinawa but their aim is relocation in Okinawa to make the concentration or consolidation of their military facilities more contemporary.

Twenty years have passed since 1996 and we still have 74 percent of the military bases in Okinawa. Little by little they have changed their explanation. This kind of manipulation makes Okinawan people very angry. Recently they claimed on their website that the actual percentage is 39 percent, not 74 percent.

Twenty years after SAKO, the situation is getting worse and worse and worse. Everyday things are happening in Okinawa. It is hard to keep up.

After 1996, both governments agreed to relocate the Futenma air station to Henoko, near the land-fill, the land reclamation from the sea. The prefecture government has the authority to approve or not approve the reclamation of land where it goes into the ocean.

Right now we have elected a good governor who stood on our side – Takeshi Onaga. He revoked the previous governor’s approval for the land-fill of the sea. Then the Japanese government sued the Okinawa governor over the revocation.

In July, the Japanese government filed a court case against the revocation. On September 16, the High Court said that the revocation is illegal. The governor has appealed to the Supreme Court and construction should be halted according to the law until a decision is handed down.

G: Who is paying for the land reclamation for the US air base?

KA: Japanese taxpayers are paying. Not the Americans.

This case followed the election of the anti-base candidate to the Diet when the Japanese government lost. Elections for the upper house (House of Councillors) in the national Diet were held in July 2016.

Right after that the Japanese government recommenced construction of helipads for helicopters in the middle of the Yanbaru mountain rainforests.

These new helipads are part of the SAKO agreement of 1996. For 20 years there have been protests against the helipad construction. It seems that at least since 2007 residents have held a sit-in in front of the gate to stop construction of helipads. They are still there.

G: Are you saying a continuous sit-in?

KA: Yes. Nine years.

G: Have they been successful in stopping their construction?

KA: What happened – right after that national Diet election [in July 2016], the Japanese government sent more than 500 riot squad from the mainland to Takai to resume construction. It seemed like retaliation. Takai is a really tiny village which has a population of 150 people.

Of course we support the people and we got together to build the sit-in action. Anyway the government sent the riot squad to this place and really heavy-handedly restarted construction.

Today they are still taking the action. It is a really serious situation right now in Takai.

G: What are the social and economic impacts on the people? We have heard of rape cases, but you might like to comment more broadly on how it affects people of Okinawa?

KA: There is a lot of manipulation of information about the military. Okinawa prefecture has a website in English and Japanese.

For example, they show that the economic benefit of the military is a myth. They show the gain from the military is only five percent of the economy of Okinawa.

Okinawa has never relied on the military for its economy. Still, US military people and the government spread this myth that the people of this small island rely on the military economy.

The Japanese government keeps Okinawa very poor. Now 20 years have passed since 1996 and we can say the military economy is a myth.

G: What is Project Disagree?

KA: In 2005, when the Japanese government released the relocation plan, I and my friends in Okinawa got together and talked about what we could do about the situation. Many of us are linked to the university – university professors, students, retired academics, and so on.

Both governments said they had agreed to the plan. So we said that we disagreed and put that name to our group.

University teachers are always busy and this work is always an excuse not to do anything, to join a sit-in action, go to a rally. There are always a lot of actions in Okinawa.

So we thought that if we are busy, what can we do. We opened our classes to the citizens. We used the name Open Freedom University and also we invited some guests to talk in our classes. We have about five or six Open Freedom Universities in Okinawa, so there’s a lot of open freedom classes in those universities.

We kept our topics but we try to relate them to issues about the bases. The regular students sit in the classes and also the citizens come.

I am not an organisation person. I hate organising and I am very disorganised so I do not want to set up an organisation, so just keep the name project.

At the moment there are not only the student teachers but the activists who come and other scholars and speakers who join in the class.

When I thought of this idea of Project Disagree, I thought about the latest news.

There is a translators’ group at the moment in Japan that translates a lot of English texts into Japanese and we distribute mail news to a lot of people such as information about Pine Gap. I got a lot of good ideas from people protesting about Pine Gap.

There’s a lot of people struggling in the world, it really inspires the people in Okinawa.

In Okinawa we see the US military as having five arms: the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the fifth arm is the Japanese Self-Defence Army.

It is a kind of joke, but not a joke.

If we have a victory and the burden is shifted from Okinawa then it is not a victory if it is shifted onto someone else.

* University of the Ryukyus

Next article – Colombia – To stop the killings

Back to index page

Go to What's On Go to Shop at CPA Go to Australian Marxist Review Go to Join the CPA Go to Subscribe to the Guardian Go to the CPA Maritime Branch website Go to the Resources section of our web site Go to the PDF of the Hot Earth booklet go to the World Federation of Trade Unions web site go to the Solidnet  web site Go to Find out more about the CPA