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What should we do to truly empathize with Okinawa?

June 23 marked the 71st anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa at the end of World War II. Not only Okinawa residents but also people across the country mourned for the victims of the fierce ground battle.

One in four Okinawans was killed in the nearly three-month battle, and after the war the islands were under U.S. rule for 27 years. Forty-four years have passed since Okinawa was returned to Japanese sovereignty in 1972. Still, Japan's southernmost prefecture is still being forced to shoulder a disproportionately heavy U.S. base burden in order to maintain Japan-U.S. security arrangements.

This abnormal situation is approaching a critical limit. This was highlighted by a shocking incident in which a former U.S. Marine was arrested over the murder of a 20-year-old woman living in the city of Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture.

At a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the battle's end, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to continue efforts to lessen the burden of U.S. bases on Okinawa. In response, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga asked whether freedom, equality, human rights and democracy -- which the Constitution guarantees -- are truly ensured for Okinawans, overburdened as they are by the conditions of the bilateral security arrangements and the Status-of-Forces Agreement.

Eve after such a heinous crime occurred, the Abe government's policy continues to conflict with Okinawa residents' feelings.

The plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, also in the prefecture -- which the Abe administration regards as a symbol of its efforts to lessen the burden of U.S. bases on Okinawa -- has not won the understanding of Okinawans. In the eyes of the Okinawa people, the base transfer to Henoko is a new burden rather than the amelioration of an old one.

Measures to prevent crimes by U.S. military personnel in Okinawa, which Tokyo and Washington are considering, appear to be just a facade intended to take in Okinawa residents, who are calling for drastic revisions to the bilateral Status-of-Forces Agreement.

Prime Minister Abe has reiterated that he empathizes with Okinawans, but the closure of the Futenma base and measures to prevent a recurrence of terrible crimes by U.S. military personnel would be meaningless unless they convince local residents.

To convince the Okinawan people, the central and prefectural governments have no choice but to hold talks, nurture a relationship of trust as the basis for mutual understanding, and pursue a compromise. The Abe government is apparently poor at such things.

What is more worrisome is that apathy about Okinawan issues among mainland Japanese has helped the national government push forward with the base relocation and other measures -- which the administration says are aimed at reducing the burden on Okinawa -- in a very high-handed manner.

In the ongoing campaign for the July 10 House of Councillors election, there is no active debate nationwide on the issue of U.S. bases in Okinawa -- except for in the Okinawa constituency.

At a June 19 demonstration in Okinawa to protest the murder of the local woman, a 21-year-old female university student said, "Everyone on mainland, who do you think is the second perpetrator in the latest incident? It's you." Each and every citizen living in mainland Japan should take her statement humbly, severe though it may sound.

The prime minister and citizens living in mainland Japan should once again ask themselves what empathizing with Okinawa means, and take action to that end. Otherwise, problems involving Okinawa will never be resolved. (By Chiyako Sato, Editorial Writer)

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