A three-day Group of Eight summit opens today in Okinawa, an unusual location for such a conference. Okinawa was the last major battlefield in the Pacific War, where Japanese Imperial soldiers fought the onslaught of U.S. military forces. During the fierce fighting, an estimated 100,000 Okinawan civilians died.

The late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi promoted the idea of hosting the summit. There is no way of finding out exactly why Obuchi wanted to have the summit held in Okinawa. However, I heard through the political grapevine, while Obuchi was alive, that he wanted to focus attention on the island chain, whose people suffered greatly in the war and during the subsequent U.S. Occupation, and who continue to be troubled by problems associated with the heavy U.S. military presence in the prefecture. Obuchi reportedly wanted to use the global attention as a springboard to develop the islands and to pave the way for a smooth transfer of U.S. Futenma Marine Air Station to a substitute site in the same prefecture.

U.S. President Bill Clinton, whose presence at the summit was in doubt while hosting the Middle East summit at Camp David, will now definitely be attending. According to the White House, Clinton, while in Okinawa, will visit a monument in the city of Itoman for victims of all nationalities who died in the Okinawan battle. There Clinton is expected to make a speech to thank Okinawans for their contributions to security in the Asia-Pacific region and to assure them of U.S. responsibility for the security of Okinawa. On reading news reports on the White House announcement, I was impressed with the attention the U.S. is paying to Okinawans’ concerns.

Problems associated with U.S. military presence on Okinawa are difficult to solve, however. A U.S. Marine was recently arrested on suspicion of molesting a local middle-school girl. The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly immediately adopted a resolution protesting against the incident and demanding apologies from the U.S and Japanese governments. An estimated 7,000 Okinawans attended a protest rally.

All this stirred memories of a 1995 protest rally held by 80,000 Okinawas against the rape of a local primary school girl by three U.S. Marines. The rally led to calls for the reduction of U.S. military bases in Okinawa and a revision of the Japan-U.S. agreement concerning U.S. armed forces stationed in Japan.

After the recent incident, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley called on Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono to extend apologies. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa, who is also director general of the Okinawa Development Agency, visited Okinawa and obtained assurances from U.S. military authorities that the nighttime curfew and drinking ban, to be imposed on marines during the summit, will be continued even after the event ends.

Then gaffe-prone Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori spoiled the cautious approaches of the Japanese and U.S. authorities when he told reporters that the Japanese government did not intend to take any action regarding the latest incident involving a U.S. Marine. Mori’s outrageous remarks, which defied a tacit agreement reached by the authorities in Tokyo and Okinawa not to rock the boat in connection with the summit, reportedly created a strong public outcry in Okinawa.

Journalists fear that Mori could make more imprudent remarks while in Okinawa to host the summit. Mori could, in his own way, handle Japanese reporters but could have very serious trouble dealing with foreign reporters, who tend to be critical. Ironically, this could be something to watch for in the summit.

I am hoping that the G8 leaders, aside from discussions of the main agenda, will have time to consider problems stemming from the U.S. military presence in Okinawa, which has continued for more than half a century following the end of World War II.

This is especially true of Clinton, who should face up to facts hidden behind the Japanese-style pageantry and niceties. If the U.S. military presence in Okinawa is important to the Japan-U.S. security system, Clinton should squarely confront problems that the U.S. is creating in Okinawa.

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