Public opinion polls conducted ahead of the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s return to Japan on May 15 have shown there is a gulf between the average Japanese citizen and the Okinawan local regarding their views on the current state of the prefecture, which hosts the bulk of the US military bases in the country.
The Mainichi Shimbun and the Ryukyu Shimpo carried out online opinion polls on May 7, regarding the current state of Okinawa and US military base issues, targeting both nationwide and Okinawan respondents. In Okinawa, 61 percent of people said they think it “unfair” that US military-dedicated facilities concentrated in the southernmost island prefecture account for 70 percent of the total area of such facilities across Japan. This greatly exceeded the 30 percent that answered, “It cannot be helped.”
Meanwhile, among nationwide respondents, 40 percent found this reality “unfair,” while 35 percent said “it cannot be helped,” showing a gulf between the two groups. When asked about Okinawa’s return to Japanese sovereignty on May 15, 1972, an overwhelming majority expressed positive views, with 92 percent of respondents to the Okinawa poll saying either it was “favourable” or “rather favourable,” and 95 percent of respondents to the nationwide poll doing the same.
The Mainichi Shimbun and the Ryukyu Shimpo carried out similar surveys on the 30th and 40th anniversaries of Okinawa’s return, which fell on 2002 and 2012. While results cannot be simply compared as survey methods differ, the previous 2012 poll also saw a large gap between Okinawan and nationwide residents when it came to the topic of US bases. Although 69 percent of Okinawan respondents found the concentration of bases in the prefecture “unfair,” only 33 percent were of this view nationwide. The ratio of Okinawan respondents for the recent May 7 poll who answered that the base concentration was unjust was 21 percentage points higher than that nationwide. It can be said that the local and nationwide perceptions of Okinawa’s military base burden still differ considerably.
As for Okinawa’s return to sovereignty, 65 percent of respondents to the Okinawa poll said it was “favourable,” while 80 percent of their nationwide counterparts answered as such. Those evaluating it as “rather favourable” comprised 27 percent and 15 percent of Okinawa and nationwide residents, respectively. The survey saw few negative views for this topic.
To a question regarding the Japanese government’s plan to relocate the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the heart of the Okinawa Prefecture city of Ginowan to the Henoko district in the prefectural city of Nago, under 40 percent of respondents of both groups 36 percent of Okinawan locals and 37 percent of nationwide residents said that measures should be pushed forward according to plan. When tallying respondents who answered the base “should not be relocated, but demolished,” “should be moved outside the prefecture,” and “should be moved somewhere outside Japan,” the number accounted for 54 percent of respondents to the Okinawa poll, and 42 percent of the respondents to the nationwide poll. The proportion of respondents who expressed disapproval of the relocation plan outstripped that of people who support it in both the Okinawa and nationwide polls.
However, the ratio in favour of the base’s relocation has grown in the recent survey, from 11 percent in Okinawa and 28 percent nationwide in the 2012 poll. There appears to have been a shift in Okinawan residents’ opinion as the national government pushes forward with land reclamation work off the coast of Henoko.
As for the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which has provisions on the operations of US military bases, as well as rights of US military-affiliated parties, 71 percent of Okinawans and 55 percent of the Japanese population said it should go through radical reform. The SOFA has not been amended since it was concluded in 1960. Though Okinawa Prefecture is demanding its revision, the Japanese government claims it will respond by improving the way it is carried out. Responses that showed support for the Japanese government’s stance remained at low levels of 13 percent among Okinawans and 15 percent among nationwide respondents.
When asked whether the Japan-US Security Treaty is facilitating Japan’s peace and safety, 42 percent of respondents to the Okinawa poll and 49 percent in the nationwide poll gave an affirmative answer. Forty-four percent of Okinawan respondents also said they “could not say either way.” For both survey groups, 91 percent expressed concern over China’s military power buildup and maritime expansion.