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Government should negotiate return of Okinawan waters closed off for U.S. military drills

Akahata editorial


Okinawafs fishers are strongly demanding that waters closed off for U.S. forcesf training be returned.


Pressured by fishermen, Okinawa Governor Nakaima Hirokazu for the first time joined the prefectural association of fishermenfs cooperatives in making representations to the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, and the U.S. Ambassador to Japan. He demanded that air space and waters closed off for U.S. forcesf shooting, bombing, and other training exercises on the islands of Kumejima and Torishima be returned and that the designation of the so-called gArea Hotel Hotelh air space and waters as training area be revoked.


In Okinawa, fishermen have been driven out of the best fishing grounds by U.S. forces. In addition, they are now facing serious financial difficulty due to the rising fuel cost. It is natural that Okinawafs fishermen demand that the training areas that force fishers out be returned.


The Japanese Communist Party has consistently demanded the return of airspace and waters used by U.S. forces for their training exercises.


Unjust provision of waters to U.S. forces


Currently, the Japanese government allows U.S. forces to use 49 locations in waters surrounding the country for their training exercises, and 29 of them are in Okinawa. Many of them are integrated with training airspaces that include facilities for live-fire exercises. Thus, Okinawa remains without freedom to use its own land, waters and airspace.


The vast training areas reserved for U.S. forces in Okinawa are hampering local efforts to develop fisheries. The gArea Hotel Hotel,h which is as large as 20,000 square kilometers, shuts out fishermen. Fishermen could harvest pricy tuna and sode-ika squid in that area.


The Japanese government says fishermen can go fishing in the area while U.S. forces do not hold training exercises. But the fact is that U.S. forces are allowed to use the area every day between 6:00 AM and 8:00 PM. How is it possible to carry out fishing there?


Fishermen, who are driven out of the training area, are forced to move to distant fishing grounds in order to make a living. What is more, fishermen are also forced to take a detour of hundreds of kilometers to go to distant fishing grounds because they are barred from going through the training areas. They have to pay for the extra fuel costs for this. In addition, the rising fuel cost is making fishers suffer more.


The government, however, does not even try to understand the fishermenfs suffering. It has no intention to act to demand the return of the training area. Foreign Minister Nakasone Hirofumi on November 11 flatly rejected the fishermenfs request, saying, gIt is difficult at this point to request that the United States return the training area.h If the government is really willing to keep the promise to greduce Okinawansf burden of U.S. bases,h it should not continue to give Okinawans the cold shoulder.


If Japan is a sovereign country, it should not allow U.S. forces to use the fishing grounds in waters off Kumejima and Torishima islands. The Japanese government is unilaterally designating certain areas as training waters closed off for use by U.S. forces and shutting out fishermen in complete disregard of international law.


Fishermen will not retreat


The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (U.N. Law of the Sea Treaty) provides for gfreedom of the high seash, which includes freedom of fishing. It is in contravention of the U.N. Law of the Sea Treaty for the Japanese government to keep fishers out of waters on the grounds that gU.S. forces are allowed to use the area.h


The U.N. law recognizes that coast states have fishing rights in waters within 200 nautical miles even in high seas. It is extraordinary for the Japanese government to renounce such rights.


The government has forced the Japanese people to endure the burden of the U.S. military presence on the grounds that it serves the defense of Japan. However, it is clear that the U.S. forces stationed in Japan are not tasked to defend Japan. U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Marines are stationed in Japan as gstrike forcesh for intervention in conflicts abroad.


There is no reason for Japan to continue to provide U.S. forces with the training waters.


The Japanese government must stop acting at the U.S. beck and call and begin negotiating the return of the training waters with the United States. 

? Akahata, November 25, 2008 



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