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Korean Peninsula from Okinawan perspective

Posted October. 14, 2013 00:25,   


"Okinawa`s sovereignty should be recovered to escape from structural discrimination. The central government does not stand for Okinawa`s interests. There is no reason for Okinawa`s residents to be controlled by an agreement made without presence of an Okinawan representative."

This is an excerpt from a column posted on Okinawan newspaper Ryukyu Shimpo published on October 3. According to the report, the problems of U.S. military base in Okinawa cannot be solved by just U.S. foreign and defense ministers and an Okinawan representative should also join the talks.

Okinawa prefecture, one of Japan`s 47 prefectures, requesting a sovereignty recovery and denying the representative nature of the central government could be seen as an independence claim from outside. But these expressions are not drastic for Okinawan residents. In 2000 when the G-8 summit meeting was being held in Okinawa, a professor at a local university said, "It is better for Okinawa to become independent." Though people were surprised at his words, they soon realized how ignorant that had been.

There is a clear reason why the Uchinanchu (the term Okinawans call themselves) are different from Yamatonchu (the term Okinawans call Japanese people). Japan merged Ryukyu Kingdom (1429-1879) by force, and Okinawa was the final battlefield at World War II that led to more than 100,000 residents fall into victim. Okinawa was under reign by U.S. military for 27 years and 74 percent of U.S. troops in Japan are in Okinawa.

Is the U.S. to blame for the Okinawa issue? Tokyo University Professor Tetsuya Takahasi presents a different view at his book "The system of Sacrifice: Fukushima and Okinawa." He says the Yamatonchu is more to be blamed for systemizing a colony situation of Okinawa. What he wanted to say was that Japan and its people demanded Okinawa, with just 0.6 percent of Japanese land and 1 percent of Japanese population, extreme sacrifice, and are not fully aware of the Okinawan situation under the name of national interest.

The biggest issue regarding Okinawa is Futenma base relocation and deployment of Osprey vertical take-off and landing transport aircraft. However, these issues are just a part of Okinawan people`s pent-up anger as they were forced to leave their fate on others. Will Okinawan frustration be able to find exit for resolution? Last week`s tour of core U.S. troops in Japan, including Yokota air base, Yokosuka naval base and Futenma marine corps, gave me negative prospects.

First, keeping U.S. military bases in Japan is inevitable due to China`s rapid rise and North Korea`s uncertainty, and Okinawa`s superb geographical position. Second, the U.S. supports Japan`s expanding military role and Japan is prepared to respond to U.S. demands. Third, there is no visible cause to question the common interests between U.S. and Japan. U.S.-Japan alliance is so solid that the two nations foresee even "tomorrow," while Okinawa talks "today," which makes it less feasible to squeeze into.

It is not proper to compare Japan`s one prefecture and Korea, a sovereign nation. Yet the harsh regional order in Northeast Asia as seen from the Okinawan perspective raises some uncomfortable question for Korea. How seriously are we considering the rising China in a forward-looking perspective? Japan has played a support role when an emergency situation occurred on the Korean Peninsula, and can we neglect its security role? What price will Korea pay for Korea-U.S. alliance? Though getting the right answers are difficult, it is clear that it`s useless to make answers on our own view and that are profitable to us.

Shuri Castle was Ryukyu`s royal palace. A petite bell hanged there in 1458, which embedded Ryukyu Kingdom`s pride as the mistress of sea having advanced to as far as Indonesia. The words embedded on the bell read "ferries and bridges of many countries," hinting Ryukyu Kingdom`s dream of bridging the world. But a ruined country took up the place. Twenty-nine years before the bell hung, Ryukyu Kingdom accomplished reunification and melted all weapons to make plows due to national policy, which worked as a source of risk.

Japan in 1879 forcibly incorporated Ryukyu into Okinawa prefecture and then strongly promoted an assimilation policy. Such an action strongly resembles what happened after the annexation of Joseon Dynasty of Korea to Japan; deification of Japanese emperor, imperial edict on education, prohibition of Okinawan language, demand of changing names to Japanese names, ordinance of banning topknots, construction of shrines and forcing royal families to live in Tokyo. Today, Okinawa is still in Japan while Korea has become independent. What made the difference between them? The independence will and capability of Koreans cannot be over praised. Yet Okinawa shows that tomorrow can exist only when one prepares for risks coming from others` forces.