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EDITORIAL | Okinawa Should Leave the Business of Diplomacy to the National Gov't

The governor's proposed Okinawa diplomacy office sends to foreign governments signals that conflict with national policies and damage the national interest.



Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki speaks to reporters in an interview on March 30 (©Kyodo)

Okinawa will establish a new "Regional Diplomacy Office" within the prefectural government in 2023. Governor Denny Tamaki claims that it is designed "to contribute to peace-building" in the Asia-Pacific region. He also vows to engage in personal diplomacy.

But diplomacy and security are matters that the national government is exclusively responsible for. As the security environment surrounding Japan grows increasingly severe, a high level of information analysis and tactical expertise is required. It is doubtful whether local governments are equipped to conduct their own maverick "diplomacy." 

Furthermore, sending signals to foreign governments that conflict with national policies may cause confusion and damage the national interest

Governor Denny Tamaki inspects the construction site in Henoko, Nago City, Okinawa Prefecture, where the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma will be relocated. Photo of May 19 (©Kyodo)

Misplaced Sense of 'Duty' Ignores the Senkakus

Governor Tamaki should focus on his primary duty, which is to improve the lives of the people of Okinawa. 

Of particular concern is Governor Tamaki's consideration of a visit to China in early July for the purpose of exchange. After all, China Coast Guard vessels continue to make frequent incursions into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands, which are part of Okinawa Prefecture.

Tamaki was asked during a news conference whether he intends to protest these incursions during such a visit to China or otherwise. His reply? "We are aware that the government of Japan has repeatedly expressed Japan's position," he said, adding "and that the governments of Japan and China have been discussing the issue."

What Tamaki did not say was whether he would clearly protest China's actions.

Such a manner of framing the issue is appalling. Even though the Japanese government has indeed been protesting China's provocations, it has not been "discussing" the issue with China.

Masanori Matsukawa, Mayor of Ginowan City, asks Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki (right) for the early return of US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. (©Kyodo)

Tamaki's Dangerous Ideas

What the prefectural government should be doing is working with the central government in taking every opportunity available to protest China's actions. Were Governor Tamaki to visit China and not say anything, that would be tantamount to acquiescing to China's provocations. And, yes, that includes China's intrusions into Japan's territorial waters.

After he was reelected as governor in the fall of 2022, Tamaki expressed his intention to appeal to the United Nations. He wanted to complain about the relocation of the US Futenma Air Station. Currently, it is in Ginowan City, but the plan is to relocate it to Henoko in Nago City. 

In an interview with a local Okinawa newspaper, Tamaki said, "Rather than looking to the government [in Tokyo] as our counterpart, it would be better to raise the issue with the rest of the world, so that a wider range of counterparts will appear."


That is a dangerous idea that invites the intervention of foreign powers in the security policies of our country. If the newly created Regional Diplomacy Office is based on such thinking, it could jeopardize Japan's national security instead of helping build peace. 

Senkaku Islands
A Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel navigates alongside a Chinese Coast Guard ship to prevent it from approaching a research vessel. January 30, off the Senkaku Islands in Ishigaki City, Okinawa Prefecture. February 2023. (©Sankei by Hiroshi Kawase)

Limits of Regional Diplomacy

The Regional Diplomacy Office is apparently still formulating its basic policies. But they should not go beyond international exchange activities.

After all, the prefectural government in Okinawa is facing a mountain of problems. It should first focus its efforts on the recovery of the prefecture's economy, which has cooled off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another urgent task is to ensure that measures are in place to protect the people of the prefecture in case of an emergency, such as a Taiwan contingency. That includes a system for the evacuation of residents. 

Prefectures should cooperate with the national government to fulfill their respective roles.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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