Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki on Friday called on the Japanese government to ease tensions with China, warning that a war over Taiwan could make the island of Okinawa a target due to its heavy US military presence.
“Any escalation of problems over the Taiwan Strait and the contingency of Okinawa being a target of attack must never happen or be allowed to happen,” Tamaki told the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
Japan has been following the US in its campaign against China and has been working on expanding its military and boosting security cooperation with other countries against Beijing. Tamaki said Japan should take a different approach.
“I call for the Japanese government to always maintain calm and peaceful diplomacy and dialogue to improve its relations with China, while working toward easing US-China tension,” he said.
Tamaki said it was necessary to work to avoid another Battle of Okinawa, one of the last major battles of World War II that inflicted a massive civilian death toll. According to a monument at the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum, 149,584 civilians lost their lives during the battle.
Tamaki spoke ahead of the 50th anniversary of the US handing Okinawa back to Japan, which happened on May 15, 1972, 21 years after the US formally ended its occupation of other Japanese territories. Tamaki used the occasion to call for a reduction in the US military presence on Okinawa.
Tamaki pointed out that despite being only a small portion of Japan’s territory, Okinawa hosts the majority of US troops in the country. “Okinawa prefecture sought to become an island of peace and without bases. However, even today, despite the fact that Okinawa is a prefecture with only 0.6% of Japan’s total land, it hosts 70.3% of the total area dedicated to the US military,” he said.
Okinawa has a robust anti-US military base movement, and Okinawans have voted against a US plan to relocate a controversial facility elsewhere on the island. “Okinawa’s burden of the US military bases is a key diplomatic and security issue that concerns all Japanese people,” Tamaki said.