Geneva—Okinawa's Governor Denny Tamaki addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council in a non-governmental capacity on September 18. At a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, he claimed that United States bases are "concentrated [in Okinawa] and threaten peace."
He then charged, "The Japanese government is imposing the construction of a new American base in Okinawa by carrying out land reclamation work in our precious sea areas."
Tamaki thereby once again expressed his opposition to the relocation of the United States Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko in Nago City in the northern part of Okinawa Island. Futenma, the current base, is located in the city of Ginowan in the center of the island.
US military bases are an important element in the deterrence provided by the Japan-US alliance. For the governor to raise objections to their location at an international forum risks undermining the national interest and the security of the Japanese people. Moreover, it could lead to unjustified intervention by foreign powers such as China.
Tamaki was attending a meeting on the topic of the international order in a September 18 plenary session of the UN Human Rights Council. In his speech, Tamaki said, "Okinawa accounts for only 0.6% of Japan's total land area. But 70% of US military installations are concentrated in the small island prefecture."
Tamaki further claimed that he had come to Geneva to draw the attention of the world to the situation in Okinawa. "I am here to bring the world's attention to the situation in Okinawa, where the concentration of US military bases threatens peace and equal participation in decision-making," he appealed.
He also mentioned a 2019 referendum held in Okinawa Prefecture on the proposed base relocation. "Despite the Okinawa voters' clear opposition to relocating the Futenma base to Henoko in a democratically held referendum," he additionally complained, the government went ahead anyway.
Tamaki added, "We fear that the buildup of military power will increase tensions in Japan's neighboring regions."
"That," Tamaki added, "is incompatible with the desire of Okinawans for peace."
Tamaki is Ignoring Existing Dangers
The governor also said that the people of Okinawa were asking for intensified diplomatic efforts by the relevant governments. He added that he wants the people of Okinawa to realize the "Right to Peace" in their region. This is a principle adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2016.
An official representative of the Japanese government replied. "The presence of US forces in Okinawa is based on geopolitical reasons and the security necessity of Japan. It is not based on discriminatory intent."
He added that the only viable way to eliminate the danger to local residents was to proceed with the relocation to Henoko. That way, the current site of the Futenma Air Station could be completely returned to Okinawa.
This is the second time that a governor of Okinawa has attended a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council. In 2015 then-governor Takeshi Onaga gave a speech in which he said that the right of the Okinawan people to "self-determination" was being "neglected."
Okinawa Already Lost This Case
According to a source, Tamaki delivered his speech at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council where non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are afforded the opportunity to express their opinions. Apparently, he was given a slot to speak as an NGO.
In connection with the Henoko relocation project, on September 4 the prefectural government lost its lawsuit against the national government. Okinawa had appealed lower court decisions against it to the Supreme Court. The prefecture had made claims against the national government in regard to design changes for ground improvement work at the Henoko site.
After the loss, Tamaki has an obligation to approve the design changes. Nevertheless, he has not yet shown any inclination to do so.
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(Read the report in Japanese.)
Author: Kazumasa Bando