From Okinawa Outreach:
More than one hundred thousand Okinawan people rallied on September 9, 2012 against the US deployment of MV-22 Osprey aircraft at Ginowan Seaside Park in Ginowan City, in central Okinawa.
This was an “all-prefecture mass rally,” spearheaded by a coalition of National Diet members, prefectural and municipal assembly members and municipal mayors. (See their resolution uploaded at the Okinawa Times here) .
The people of Okinawa rallied to express their outrage at the US-Japanese attempt to conceal the plan to deploy the MV-22 Osprey to Okinawa, and by the US-Japanese continued attempt to push through the deployment, despite the prefecture’s absolute refusal. The US Marines want to test and flight train the accident-prone aircraft through congested urban areas, including Ginowan City, a site of a previous flight training crash in 2004, and an ecologically sensitive subtropical rainforest in northern Okinawa.
The deployment of the V-22 Osprey aircraft, despite safety concerns, has galvanized opposition to the expansion of U.S. bases in Okinawa. The deployment has also stirred public protest on mainland Japan due to safety concerns. Protests were also held in Miyako, Yaeyama, Zamami, Aguni, Sasebo, Osaka, Iwaguni and Tokyo to voice opposition to the deployment of the aircraft.
The last public protest of this size in Okinawa was in 1995, resulting in the SACO agreement to return land and alleviate the burden of U.S. forces in Okinawa. Yet the U.S. military and Japanese governments have continued to develop bases, rather than reducing the number of bases and returning land to Okinawan residents. The September 9 protests marked a milestone in the movement opposing U.S. base expansion. Well-known East Asia scholar Gavan McCormack points out the significance of the protest in his op-ed entitled “This is no longer an opposition movement but a prefecture in resistance saying, ‘No.’”
After decades of struggle, however, on these issues there is no longer an Okinawan “government” and “opposition.” Local government heads and assemblies, social and citizen groups are one, and it is the conservative Governor who suggests that if the Osprey are so safe they could be deployed to Hibiya Park or Shinjuku Gyoen. This is no longer an opposition movement but a prefecture in resistance, saying “No.” Japanese history has no precedent for this.
The U.S. media reaction to the “9.9″ rallies was similarly unprecedented. Articles appeared in major media outlets such as the Washington Post, and an op-ed in support of returning land to Okinawans ran in the NYTimes. As McCormack’s op-ed signaled, this is a new era for the Okinawan base opposition movement in the English-speaking press.
In spite of this public outcry, the Japanese government approved the safety of the MV-22 Osprey on September 19. With the safety record of Fukushima a not-so-distant memory, Prime Minister Noda’s administration continues to lose credibility on issues of public safety. The people of Japan and Okinawa have voiced their opposition, and it is time the U.S. make policy changes to close Futenma and stop base expansion on Okinawa for good.