Local lawmakers in Okinawa passed a resolution yesterday expressing “overwhelming indignation” at the alleged rape of a Japanese woman by two US servicemen, as temperatures rose over the large US presence on the island chain.
The resolution, passed unanimously by the island chain’s assembly, said US military top brass were not doing enough to control their thousands of personnel.
“Yet another incident has taken place. In fact, the severity of the incidents is intensifying,” it said. “With overwhelming indignation, we must question the present efforts of the US Forces to prevent such incidents from happening.”
The arrest last week of two 23-year-old sailors for the alleged rape of a local woman worsened already strained ties between the large US military contingent and their reluctant hosts.
The resolution said more than 5,700 crimes had been committed by US military personnel, their family members or employees in the 40 years since the small island chain was handed back to Japan in 1972.
Figures from the Okinawa prefectural police show the percentage of crimes committed by this group has fallen from a high in 1973 of 6.9 percent of all crimes to 0.8 percent last year.
Last year, the group accounted for around three percent of Okinawa’s total population.
In the resolution, the assembly demanded “a fundamental review of the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement,” which Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima said effectively made the island an extraterritorial space for the US military.
The agreement limits the authority of Japanese investigators to prosecute US personnel, giving jurisdiction to the US military. Opponents say it too easily leaves criminals unpunished.
“We are so fed up with this because incidents like this have often occurred since before,” Nakaima told reporters as he arrived in Washington on Sunday, where he is due to attend a symposium. “I must let [Americans] know of such sentiment in Okinawa.”
Nakaima’s trip to Washington, which was planned before the alleged rape, comes as US authorities scramble to contain the fallout from the incident amid rising anti-US feeling in Okinawa.
On Friday the top US commander in Japan imposed a nationwide curfew on all personnel in the country and announced “core value retraining” would take place.
Previous criminal incidents, including the gang rape of a 12-year-old by three US soldiers in 1995, sparked angry large-scale demonstrations, with protesters demanding a smaller US footprint.
Around half of the 47,000 US military personnel based in Japan are stationed in Okinawa.
Relations at the moment are especially prickly, with locals resentful of the deployment of 12 tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft.
Ostensibly, the objections center on the Osprey’s perceived poor safety record, but commentators say it is a proxy issue for islanders fed up with what they see as an unequal burden. They call for mainland Japan to step up and take its share.