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Sunday, November 28, 2010

On the day after the Okinawa election 沖縄知事選の後に

Sea of Henoko, Nago, Okinawa  - where the endangered marine mammal dugong feed on the rich varieties of sea grasses, and where US and Japanese governments want to build a new military base.

The morning after Okinawa's gubernatorial election, in which anti-Henoko candidate Iha lost to incumbent Nakaima (who has been ambiguous about the base issue), the reporter in the 7 a.m. NHK news said, "I see a thin ray of light in the darkness." He talked as if he personally had been in that "darkness." He meant that Nakaima's win, instead of Iha's, brought some hope to the current situation, notably the strained US-Japan relationship over the base "relocation" issue.

But then I thought: Hope for what? Light for whom? It was Okinawa that has been in the darkness with the unfairly heavy burden of hosting US military bases.
Iha Yoichi, surrounded by media and supporters,
after defeat was known (Photo by Maeda Takeshi)

To this reporter, the US-Japan alliance is so important and any sacrifice, especially Okinawans' acceptance of a Henoko base would be important to sustain the status quo, or "deepening" of that military alliance. So this is why the "sense of relief" is spreading in Tokyo, as Ryukyu Shimpo reports, of which this reporter's reaction is typical. Nakaima, who pretended that he did not want a new base in Okinawa and took Iha's votes to win the election, has indicated repeatedly there is room for negotiation, and has never given a clear answer to whether he really opposed the Henoko plan. (See previous post on November 5, and November 23.)

Before the election, all the mainland and international media supported Nakaima and his camp's strategy to blur the difference between the two candidates. Then the focus of the debate shifted to economy, and Nakaima attracted more votes, promising and hinting more economic developments, subsidies, and continued base-related contracts and incomes. He was backed by LDP and Komeito, the combination of the previous government who want to see a "relocation" base built in Henoko. Nakaima won the election by deceiving many Okinawans into believing that he was committed to moving the base outside of the prefecture and lulling others into not bothering to vote, and now that he has won, he is welcomed with open and warm hands by the mainland politicians with "the sense of relief."

Well, the "sense of relief" for the Tokyo politicians is the "sign of alarm" for Okinawans. Now the Tokyo politicians are ready to roll up  their sleeves and start negotiating with Nakaima, who is more than ready to be in the talk to get the most favourable terms for Okinawa in exchange for building the Henoko base.

Here is University of Ryukyus professor Gabe Masaaki in Stars and Stripes (November 26):

Gabe said that the most effective way for Tokyo to gain the support of Okinawa is to keep pouring money into the prefecture. The government has given 3.56 billion yen (about $44.5 million) to Okinawa under the Realignment Contribution Subsidy since Camp Schwab and its adjacent community of Henoko were chosen as the relocation site, according to the Ministry of Defense.

“After all, money talks,” Gabe said.

“But the bad news is that money is like a drug,” he said. “The more you use, the more you need.”
Money, power, and dirty connections will continue to run the country, this "alliance," and Okinawa. For Okinawans, democracy, principle, citizenship --- everything that Iha and his candidacy represented was shuttered. In a way, this election completed the DPJ and Hatoyama's betrayal on Iha and Okinawans who believed they would bring a change they promised. But Hatoyama betrayed the pledge of not building another base in Okinawa and resigned. DPJ has completely changed its position on the issue now, and Kan expressed his commitment to "deepening" the alliance, and following through the Henoko base plan. DPJ did not endorse any candidate in this election; they virtually detached and abandoned Okinawa: what Japan has done to the island nation since the WWII. It is ironical to imagine that if DPJ did not take the government last year and LDP stayed in power, this election could have been about Iha with DPJ backing VS. Nakaima with LDP/Komeito, in which case Iha would have had a better chance of winning.

The series of the international events in the region and how the governments and media capitalized on them to further orchestrate the fear of regional threats must have certainly played a role. The March 26 sinking of South Korean warship Cheonan was attributed to North Korea's torpedo attack in the South Korea-led "investigation" team. The report, which we now know was full of flaws and incoherent "evidences," was issued on May 20, days before Hatoyama gave in, and US/Japan issued a joint statement to confirm their intention to build a "replacement" base in Henoko. The September 7 ship collision around Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands has been used to instigate unproductive nationalism, fear of China, and to justify military build-up on Okinawa and the "forward islands" near the border with China. The November 23 military collision between North and South Korea over the disputed sea border was again ued to escalate the joint military exercise of US and South Korea in the Yellow Sea. Yesterday, as Okinawan voters went to the polls, TV news was filled with images of nuclear-powered USS George Washington in the joint drill happening on that day, and repeated re-runs of the leaked video of the Chinese fishing boat colliding with the Japanese Coast Guard ship.

Ryukyu Shimpo's editorial, on the morning after the election, holds the ruling party DPJ accountable for its irresponsible policies for the past year, which "left deep-rooted distrust in the political process and sense of betrayal," leading to the turnout rate of 60.88%, four percent lower than that of 2006 election. Okinawa Times' editorial attributes the low turnout to the obfuscation of the election issue and lack of DPJ's participation in the election. Okinawa Times quotes Kyodo's exit poll to be indicative of the voters' confusion over Nakaima's change of stance over the Futenma issue. 68.9% of the surveyed said that "would not tolerate the Henoko base plan," of which 60% voted for Iha, and 40% for Nakaima. (The final vote counts were 335,708 for Nakaima; 297,082 for Iha; 13,116 for Kinjo.)

Back in January, Nakaima supported the pro-base incumbent in the mayoral election of Nago, where Henoko, the planned site for the "replacement" base is. Anti-base candidate Inamine Susumu won that election, and Inamine, like Iha, is unequivocally opposed to base construction, whether on land, or on the ocean. In September election of Nago City Assembly, Nakaima also helped the pro-base candidates, but the overwhelming majority was won by anti-base candidates in that election. Nago's voices are clear. Okinawans' voices are also clear, but because of the "Nakaima confusion," many of votes that belonged to Iha swayed into Nakaima's hands.

Now, Nakaima is truly accountable for actually following through his superficial pledge to push the two governments to review the existing agreement(to build in Henoko), and to "move Futenma out of the prefecture." He has never said he opposed the Henoko plan or never said that he would not approve reclamation to build a sea-based base, but the expectation is mounting, and he must deliver what he said and what that logically indicates. Four years ago too, he pledged the resolution for the Futenma issue and also for Okinawa's lowest income, and highest unemployment rate in the country, but not having delivered any of them, he was re-elected.

For our past discussion on the issue of US military bases in Okinawa, see HERE.



  1. Anonymous11:52 pm

    perhaps a surprising result is that Okinawans chose a 'pro-base' mayor four times in a row. Did they really want a reduction of the burden, or just more stimulus?

    You also wrote 'what has Japan done to this island nation since WWII.' I think you meant to say something else. You can look at it from many angles, but Okinawa does not qualify as independent nation state.

  2. My understanding of the word "nation" is that a nation does not have to be necessarily a UN-recognized nation state to be a nation. Here in Canada, Quebec is referred to as a nation, and we have many First Nations. I use the word "nation" here meaning Okinawa is a distinct entity that has its own heritage.

  3. Anonymous12:35 am

    that's a smart ploy, but the election of four 'pro-base' governors over the last one and a half decade shows that Okinawans themselves perhaps care less about their distinct heritage than what many wishful thinkers have made it to be. Why couldn't Okinawans be clearer in casting their votes in those four elections, if they want the bases out?

  4. I think I know who you are, but I could be wrong. I need your identity to continue this conversation, thanks.

  5. To answer this question, first I recommend you go back to my article and read it again, to see what other factors than voters' will affect the voters' behaviours and how voters are manipulated by the media, money, and political forces.

    To add to the article,

    I will share what I wrote on one of the email groups that I belong to, today, responding to somebody's question of the influence of Komeito/Sokka Gakkai in elections.

    Komeito/Soka Gakkai, often just called "Gakkai," is pro-base,
    pro-Henoko. It didn't used to be, but let's not forget they were part of
    the coalition government with LDP for 9 years up until the general
    election last year.

    At the time of the Nago plebiscite over the base plan, held on December
    21, 1997, "Gakkai" was anti-base. In that plebiscite, the government
    tried desperately to buy off the Nago residents' votes by sending
    Defense Bureau's staff and those of local construction companies to
    visit and convince individual homes. Nonaka Hiromu, former influential
    politician of LDP, came to Okinawa and backed the pro-base manipulation,
    but at the end, the majority of Nago residents voted to oppose the base.

    Three days later, then mayor of Nago (pro-base) Higa went to the
    residence of Prime Minister Hashimoto, and committed harakiri - not
    literally, but expressed his acceptance of the Nago base plan, betraying
    on the result of the plebiscite, and resigned on the spot.

    Two months later, a mayoral election was held, and pro-base Kishimoto
    won. Why? Gakkai had about 1,500 votes within Nago, and changing their
    position, they ordered Gakkai members to vote for Kishimoto, which
    tipped the balance and made him win the election.

    There was dirty dealing between Nonaka and Gakkai for the gubernatorial
    election in 1998, in which incumbent Ota Masahide lost to business boss
    Inamine Keiichi. Gakkai demanded one of the Parliament seats of Okinawa
    (Naha) in exchange for supporting Inamine for the governor, and Nonaka
    accepted. As a result, Ota was defeated by Inamine, by 37,000 votes.
    Well, how could Nonaka have just given the parliament seat to Gakkai?
    LDP withdrew their candidate (who is our famous Shimoji Mikio) from the
    Naha constituency (to move him to the parallel representation district),
    and let the Gakkai (Komeito) candidate win.

    Gakkai manipulation is not the only thing that happened in that 1998
    election, which Ota was thought to win. Suzuki Muneo revealed that so-called
    "Cabinet Secret Fund," equivalent of $3 million was used to support
    Inamine in that election.

    Central government's manipulation of Okinawan elections go as far as
    back to 1968. Here is a quote from my own article, an interview with Ota.
    > Edwin O. Reischauer, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Japan from 1961 to
    1966, tried to increase the number of pro-occupation representatives
    within Okinawa’s Legislature with CIA funding, intending to crush the
    progressive forces. The U.S. and Japanese governments threw in 720,000
    dollars and 880,000 dollars respectively, into their attempt to
    influence the election, but they failed with the victory of Yara Chobyo.
    This is how Okinawa’s hard-earned democracy has been manipulated.

    Anybody can contact my Centre through an email address at the top of the page.