- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

Hiroshi Hosaka, a professor of sociology and communications at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, spoke to reporter Takehiko Kambayashi about the U.S. military presence on that Japanese island. Mr. Hosaka, a native of Hokkaido, northernmost of Japan's four main islands, has lived and worked in the prefecture's subtropical archipelago for a quarter-century.

Question: The 1995 rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three American servicemen and the ensuing protests against the U.S. military presence were an important turning point for islanders. How did this tragedy make them change?
Answer: I believe that the people in Okinawa have learned three things: If the people are strong-willed, they can get U.S. military bases moved; Okinawa needs to develop its economy; Okinawa also needs to reduce the gap in economic development between the underdeveloped northern part of the island and the south.

Q: As the protracted economic slump has made Okinawans more concerned about their jobs, it seems the opponents of the U.S. military presence have toned down their rhetoric.
A: They have. From 1995 to 1998, the issues of the U.S. military presence and the local economy competed for the attention of Okinawans. Since 1998, however, the former has been put aside, and instead, the people have been more concerned about the region's economy.
Although some opponents once demanded the "ultimate removal" of the U.S. military bases from the island, more and more in the opposition camp now call for its "reduction."

Q: Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine who may seek re-election this year has demanded a 15-year time limit on an alternate facility to Futenma U.S. Marine Corps Air Station. Also, the relationship between Okinawa and the central government appears to be deteriorating.
A: The debate on the time limit issue seems to be postponed until [after] Okinawa's gubernatorial election in November. If Gov. Inamine decides to run again, it could be put off further. That is because he would be in a precarious position if Okinawa and the government [in Tokyo] nail down the issue now.
If Gov. Inamine decides not to run, Tokyo is likely to support a candidate who will not make such an election pledge. This could be a good card for Tokyo, because that would indicate the emergence of a new candidate with a different policy [toward the Marine air facility].
Even if Gov. Inamine is re-elected, Tokyo will demand he change policy.
All these options considered, Okinawa will finally take a position that allows it to negotiate with the U.S. and Japanese governments. This is how many government officials, journalists and analysts in Okinawa look at the issues.
What's essential is what kind of policy the government will take toward Okinawa and the United States on the issues of security and the U.S. military presence. The current base issues on Okinawa are related to the military order in East Asia; therefore, this is not just a domestic issue.


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