May 15 (UPI) — Okinawa marked 50 years since its return to Japan from U.S. rule on Sunday as residents continue to call for the island to remove the remaining American military bases.
Even decades removed from the U.S. handover the prefecture holds 70.3% of U.S. military installations in Japan by acreage and a rally was held in the capital of Naha Sunday morning as demonstrators called for all of the military bases to be removed.
Gov. Denny Tamaki delivered remarks at a commemoration ceremony held near one of the major U.S. bases as he called for the central government to take action to convert Okinawa into “an island of peace” and fulfill the goals set out at the time of the reversion.
“Even after 50 years … the people of Okinawa continue to be forced to shoulder excessive base-hosting burdens,” Tamaki said. “We hope the government will make sincere efforts to create a peaceful and prosperous Okinawa where every resident can feel happy in the true sense.”
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also delivered remarks that acknowledged Okinawa’s “large base-hosting burden” while pledging to “steadily make visible progress on the alleviation of the burden while maintaining the deterrence offered by the Japan-U.S. alliance.”
Japan remains a key post for the United States amid tensions with China in the Indo-Pacific region, which the Biden administration just pledged $105 million in funding, including maritime security, for this past week during the U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit in Washington, D.C., this week.
Despite the tensions, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters in May that he and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had agreed to “accelerate efforts to ease the burden on Okinawa, now 50 years after its return.”
U.S. ambassador to Japan Rahm Emmanuel shared a message from President Joe Biden who said he looks forward to further “deepening our friendship across Japan and to contributing to Okinawa’s prosperity with an eye to the next 50 years.”