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Okinawa, Japan are pushing the United States to pull down its base presence 77 years after the end of the war

Written by Javed Iqbal

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Okinawa on Thursday marked the 77th anniversary of the end of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, with the governor calling for a further reduction of US military presence there, as local fears grow, the southern Japanese islands will become embroiled in regional military tensions.

The Battle of Okinawa killed about 200,000 people, almost half of them Okinawa residents. Japan’s military, in an attempt to delay a US landing on the main islands, essentially sacrificed the local population.

Many in Okinawa are concerned about the growing prevalence of Japanese missile defense and amphibious capabilities on outlying islands close to geopolitical hotspots like Taiwan.

At a ceremony marking the end of the battle on June 23, 1945, about 300 participants in Okinawa, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and other officials, offered a moment of silence at noon and placed chrysanthemums for the war dead. The number of participants was reduced due to concerns about coronavirus.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, prays a silent prayer during a ceremony at Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, Okinawa, southern Japan, on Thursday, June 23, 2022. Japan marked the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II fought on the southern Japanese island, which ended 77 years ago, Thursday.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, prays a silent prayer during a ceremony at Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, Okinawa, southern Japan, on Thursday, June 23, 2022. Japan marked the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II fought on the southern Japanese island, which ended 77 years ago, Thursday.
(Kyodo News via AP)

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At the ceremony in Itoman town on Okinawa’s main island, Governor Denny Tamaki spoke about Russia’s invasion of Ukrainesays the destruction of cities, buildings and local culture, as well as the constant fear of the Ukrainians, “reminds us of our memory of the landslide in Okinawa that involved citizens 77 years ago.”

“We are in for an indescribable shock,” he said.

Tamaki also vowed to continue efforts to abolish nuclear weapons and renounce war “never to allow Okinawa to become a battlefield.”

In May, Okinawa marked the 50th anniversary of its return to Japan in 1972, two decades after the American occupation ended in most of the country.

Today, a majority of the 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan are under a bilateral security pact and 70% of U.S. military facilities are still in Okinawa, which makes up only 0.6% of Japanese land.

Because of U.S. bases, Okinawa faces noise, pollution, accidents and crime related to U.S. troops, Tamaki said.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida offers a bouquet of flowers in front of a memorial in Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, Okinawa, southern Japan on Thursday, June 23, 2022. Japan marked the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II fought in southern Japan island, which ended 77 years ago, Thursday.  (Kyodo News via AP)

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida offers a bouquet of flowers in front of a memorial in Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, Okinawa, southern Japan on Thursday, June 23, 2022. Japan marked the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II fought in southern Japan island, which ended 77 years ago, Thursday. (Kyodo News via AP)

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Kishida recognized the need for more government efforts to reduce Okinawa’s burden on US military bases, as well as more support for the islands’ economic development, which fell behind during their 27-year US occupation.

Anger and frustration run deep in Okinawa over the heavy US presence and Tokyo’s lack of efforts to negotiate with Washington to balance the security burden between the Japanese mainland and the southern archipelago.

Kishida, referring to the deteriorating security environment in regional seas in the face of threats from China, North Korea and Russiahas promised to strengthen Japan’s military capacity and budget in the coming years, including the enemy’s attack capacity, which critics say interferes with Japan’s pacifist constitution.

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Javed Iqbal

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