Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima’s decision to approve construction of the planned US Marine air base at Henoko has won its fair share of admirers. Much of the international media has portrayed it as a “breakthrough” that resolves a long political “stalemate” that had plagued US-Japan relations for many years.
For almost a year now after his thumping victory in December 2012 we have found ourselves surprised again and again by Shinzo Abe. We have asserted repeatedly that the Abe that we were witnessing was not the “real” Abe, and that the agenda he was pursuing was based on a tactical calculation about what was necessary to maintain public support, but not a reflection of his basic character.
The determination of the leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party to get tough on the Henoko base construction issue is becoming apparent to close observers. It has long been a question whether or not Tokyo was really willing to repress the popular will in Okinawa, which clearly opposes the construction of a new US Marine base, but the message is now coming through more openly: Let Okinawan opinions be damned! The base will be built!
Japan is taking a major step in its military strategy, conducting a large-scale amphibious drill designed to put on display its ability to conquer an island. This follows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s repeated references to the Falklands in his speeches, a polite and indirect, yet unequivocal way, of warning China that an “invasion” of the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands would be met with an amphibious counterstrike.
The appearance on September 9 of an unmanned airplane near the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims under the name Diaoyu, was just one of many incidents reported by the media over the last few weeks. However, it attracted the attention of observers who wondered whether this was a harbinger of things to come. On the one hand, it was just a matter of time until this kind of weapon would be deployed by the various powers in the Asia-Pacific region, where rumors about its presence already abounded.
Last year the Defense Ministry began floating a plan to the media suggesting that they wanted to build a GSDF radar base on the remote island of Yonaguni, a stone’s throw from Taiwan, as a measure to keep an eye on Chinese naval activities in the seas around Okinawa Prefecture. The plan is to base one hundred or more GSDF officers permanently on this tiny island, which is less than 30 square kilometers in size and has a total population of around 1,700 people.
Since we are based in Tokyo and not in Washington DC, we may not be the best source available for understanding US government policy, even its policy toward Japan and Asia. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to notice that the Obama administration is taking an unexpectedly cool posture toward Shinzo Abe and his band, and that this is having a major political effect here as well. It is also obvious that the Obama policy toward Japan is radically different than what US policy was a decade ago under George W. Bush.
The new regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping is to be congratulated for accomplishing the remarkable feat of making the rightwing lunatic fringe of Japanese politics look positively wise and prescient this week. Ever since large-scale anti-Chinese protests began to appear on the streets of Japan in the autumn of 2010, one of their staple claims was that Beijing had its longing eyes focused on the uninhabited Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands only as a first step toward encroaching on well-inhabited Okinawa, then Kyushu, then all of Japan.
It was 39 years ago today that the people of Okinawa finally escaped from the Pacific War, but they still await a more genuine era of self-determination. The 82-day-long Battle of Okinawa in 1945 was a horror. Something like a quarter of the civilian population ― more than 100,000 by most accounts ― were slaughtered in the crossfire between an alien army determined to conquer them and an Imperial Army that had no intention of protecting them.