Security has been likened to oxygen: you only notice it when it’s gone. The American security presence in Asia has provided breathing space for East Asia’s unprecedented economic development over the past 30 years. Under the umbrella of the US-Japan Security Treaty, Japan has been able to develop its economy free from external aggression and coercion. The United States and Japan have further benefited from the peaceful development of the regional economy. U.S.-Japan trade with Asia totals over 93 trillion yen (over US$801 billion) per year and our two countries have invested over 90 trillion yen in the area. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for one-fourth of the world economy and will, within our lifetimes, account for half. Okinawa plays a crucial role in our bilateral efforts to promote peace and stability in East Asia by hosting over 25,000 troops, including a Marine Expeditionary Force and the largest Composite Wing in the U.S. Air Force.
As codified in the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, U.S. forces stationed here are charged with both defending Japan and maintaining peace and stability in the region. Regional and ethnic rivalries suppressed during the Cold War are boiling over, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction makes such rivalries even more dangerous. Asia, unlike Europe, has no collective defense organization capable of carrying out a regional security role. In Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was able to expand in the wake of U.S. troop reductions. In Asia, U.S. troop reductions would create a vacuum. There is no existing alternative for the various bilateral U.S. security arrangements backed by the forward deployment of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, the only mobile, self-contained, combined arms unit among the 100,000 U.S. troops forward-deployed to Asia.
The end of the Cold War has not ended face-to-face military confrontation in Asia. The Korean peninsula remains divided between two heavily armed camps. Chinafs military expansion, without transparent explanation of its intent, creates destabilizing uncertainty. Our long-term hope is that the growing market economy in China will eventually be accompanied by democratization?but so far, that is not the case. Without either a collective defense organization or a credible U.S. presence in the region, the imbalance of power between China and each of its neighbors would be worrisome.
The immense distances of the Asia-Pacific region require huge expenditures of resources and time to overcome what military planners call “the tyranny of distance.” Naha is closer to Manila and Shanghai than to Tokyo, and closer to Hanoi than to Hokkaido. No place else is so close to so many other places; no other single location would permit U.S. forces to carry out their crucial role of ensuring regional stability through comprehensive engagement. These forces serve as an important deterrence to aggression and are actively engaged in supporting regional confidence-building measures through military-to-military exchanges, combined and joint training, and combined and joint humanitarian relief operations, averaging around 70 such off-island deployments a year.(Pacific Command). U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa tangibly back our security commitments to our allies and friends in Asia. Maintained at a high state of readiness, they pose a credible deterrent to aggression and thereby reduce the likelihood of having to engage in conflict.
The important role Okinawa plays in supporting regional security and prosperity in Asia made it a focus of the October 2004 Alliance Transformation and Realignment (ATARA) report and May 2005 ATARA implementation plan. The two overarching goals of ATARA were to improve the ability of the United States and Japan to deter and respond to threats, and to reduce any negative impact on local communities of hosting U.S. forces and facilities.
Missile defense systems are part of the planned improved deterrence. The United States and Japan both recognize potential missile threats to Japan and are taking a number of important steps, all across Japan, to meet this challenge. The first step has already been taken in Okinawa, with the forward deployment of the PAC3-capable 1-1 ADA Battalion to Kadena AFB. Additional planned deterrents include an X-Band radar in Northern Japan and the deployment of the Aegis BMD-capable U.S.S. Shiloh to Yokosuka, the collocation of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force Air Defense Command with 5th Air Force and the establishment of a Bilateral Joint Operation Coordination Center at Yokota Air Base, and an agreement to jointly develop a new Standard Missile Interceptor.
The United States and Japan are also working to implement three major Okinawa-based portions of ATARA intended to reduce the footprint of U.S. Forces. One is to move Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma from urban Ginowan City to Camp Schwab, in a rural part of Nago City. A second is to move portions of the U.S. Marine Corps from Okinawa to Guam. A third is to consolidate U.S. military facilities in the densely populated south-central part of Okinawa within existing facilities in the north, in order to return high-value land to local use. The two governments have set a goal of completing a replacement facility for MCAS Futenma by 2014.Above and beyond the agreement between the governments of Japan and the United States, U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa are committed to being good neighbors. U.S. bases are the second largest employer in Okinawa and contribute over $3 billion a year to the local economy, almost $3,000 dollars per year for every man, woman and child in Okinawa. The most valuable assets of the bases, however, are the men and women who live on them and who volunteer their skills and enthusiasm for a wide range of benevolent activities. Military and civilian personnel and their families volunteer to teach English in Okinawan schools, clean up beaches and public parks, maintain orphanages, old age homes, and host the largest Special Olympics in Japan. U.S. facilities environmentalists and archeologists work with their Okinawan counterparts to find better ways to manage the environment and preserve cultural assets. On-base universities open their doors to Okinawan students and the Navy Hospital provides high tech internships for local doctors.
With central and local government officials and civic organizations, U.S. forces are constantly looking for new ways to work together to improve life on Okinawa. With regard to military-related disciplinary incidents and crimes, in 2004 and 2005 incidents involving U.S. Military base-related personnel declined. The incident rate is lower than for comparable troops stationed in the United States, and is less than half the rate for the public at large in Okinawa, despite the preponderance of young adult males in the military population.
U.S. Consulate General Naha has close and pervasive links with the U.S. Military. All four major Services are present on Okinawa, with the Marines and Air Force constituting the lion’s share of military personnel. Eight flag officers from three U.S. Military Services are assigned to Okinawa. The Consul General maintains close working relations with senior U.S. military officers in Okinawa, especially the Commanding General, III Marine Expeditionary Force, who as the senior U.S. officer is also the Okinawa Area Coordinator (OAC). The Consul General is an ex officio member of the Okinawa Area Coordinating Committee (OACC), which is chaired by the OAC. The other members of the OACC are the commanding officer of the Army’s 10th Area Support Group, the commanding general of the Air Force’s 18th Wing, the Navy’s Commander of Fleet Activities, Okinawa and the commanding general of Marine Corps Bases Japan.
Public Affairs Section
The Public Affairs Section is your window on the United States. Our job is to provide information and opportunities to help Okinawans better understand all aspects of the U.S.
This includes working with the media, coordinating educational and cultural exchanges, and bringing American experts to Okinawa to lecture on policy issues and aspects of American society and culture, as well as to discuss these issues with their Okinawan counterparts. Through such activities we hope to create areal dialogue between Okinawans and Americans on the issues that are important for the future of our relationship.
The primary responsibility of the public affairs section is to facilitate this dialogue by bringing Okinawans and Americans closer together. One of the ways we are doing this is through Okinawa’s two American Corners.
Public Affairs Naha also seeks to promote a relationship that is both deep and broad, through, for example, International Visitor (IV) and Voluntary Visitor (VV) programs.
Okinawa – Japan’s only subtropical region and its southernmost prefecture – comprises 160 islands (40 inhabited) stretching over 623 miles from mainland Japan to Taiwan, but its 1.4 million people and $36 billion economy are concentrated on the largest island, also called Okinawa. Although Okinawa’s market is relatively small by Japanese standards, there are significant opportunities for U.S. businesses, in part due to Okinawa’s history as a U.S.- administered territory from 1945-1972 and the continued U.S. military presence in Okinawa. Okinawans are open to imported goods and are already familiar with many American products and American food culture. Okinawa has the highest population growth rate and its growing and well-educated workforce is the youngest in Japan. Also, average wages are among the lowest nationwide. Okinawa offers a wide range of subsidies and tax incentives for investors and employers.
Because of Okinawa’s unique history and current economic circumstances, the central government provides an annual subsidy to promote the prefectural economy. In FY2016, the amount was approximately $3 billion. Officials plan to invest approximately $1.3 billion in public infrastructure projects this year, including port upgrades and the continuing construction of a second runaway at Naha International Airport.
Tourism is Okinawa’s major economic activity. In 2015, the total number of tourists visiting Okinawa increased ten percent to 7.76 million (from 7.06 million in 2014) due to new foreign airline routes, increased cruise ship visits, public-private tourism promotion strategies, relaxed visa requirements for Chinese tourists, and a weaker yen. As the result, the number of non-Japanese tourists increased 68 percent to 1.5 million in 2015, compared to 893,500 in 2014. The number of domestic and overseas tourists reached a record-high for the second consecutive year. Tourism-related revenue reached $4.7 billion in 2015 which is also the record high. Destination weddings in Okinawa generated $192 million revenue in 2015. Okinawa Prefecture Government (OPG) expects continued growth in the tourist numbers and revenue as large scale medical conferences and the 6th World Uchinanchu Festival for Okinawa descendants living in all the nations of the world will likely drum up tourism interest in Okinawa.
Okinawa pledged to improve tourism infrastructure with the goal of attracting 10 million tourists annually by 2021. Ongoing construction of Naha Airport’s second runway is expected to be completed before the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and a site in the southeastern part of the main island was selected to construct a Meetings, Incentive travel, Convention, and Exhibition (MICE) facility that can accommodate 40,000 people. Additionally, Okinawa is seeking to bolster its medical tourism industry. In 2014, Okinawa announced plans to create an international medical hub to include a hospital, a heavy particle cancer treatment center, an infectious disease research center, and a new pharmaceutical development facility on recently returned U.S. military base land. The Government of Japan budgeted $837,000 for FY2016 to conduct research and feasibility studies for the project.
Foreign investment is active in Okinawa; the Governor formed an economic strategy committee to encourage commercial and tourism partnerships throughout East Asia. OPG has satellite offices in Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore to activate economic exchanges. In addition, OPG established five core strategies target the Asian market. The strategies include development of logistics, communication, and information hubs, an aviation-related industry cluster, world-class resorts, and manufacturing promotion. International hospitality chains announced hotel openings in Okinawa.
Although public sector spending and tourism dominate Okinawa’s economy, government policy is encouraging diversification into information and communication technology (ICT) and air cargo. Over three hundred ICT companies, some affiliated with American firms, have begun operating in Okinawa since 1990. As of January 2015, these firms had created 25,912 employment opportunities. The IT-related industry workforce accounts for five percent of the labor force. By offering various tax incentives, Okinawa plans to invite total of 440 companies and create 7,000 additional jobs. In addition, Okinawa has fewer large earthquakes than other Japanese regions, and has therefore become a popular location for business continuity and disaster recovery-related investment. For that reason, Okinawa built a cloud data center that is able to withstand intense seismic activity and has the capability to store up to 18,000 servers. Okinawa also aims to become the IT conduit for East Asia by connecting Japan and Asia via underwater cable to the existing Global International Exchange (GIX). A U.S.-based computer company opened a technology verification center utilizing Okinawa’s link to the GIX cable to expand its business in Asia.
The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University, a world-leading natural sciences graduate school, has an annual budget of about $147 million. OIST aims to contribute to the economic growth of Okinawa by conducting ground-breaking research and attracting corporate research institutions and venture businesses to Okinawa, with the eventual goal of forming intellectual and industrial clusters. In 2014, the first spin-off venture company utilizing scientific research and software developed at OIST was created.
Okinawa’s Naha International Airport is just two to four hours from major Asian hubs such as Narita, Haneda, Chubu, Kansai, Seoul, Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Qingdao, Guangzhou and Singapore, and cargo operations at the airport go on 24 hours a day. In 2009, All Nippon Airways (ANA) took advantage of Okinawa’s central location in Asia to establish an international cargo hub. Since then, cargo volume has grown one hundredfold. Naha International Airport now handles the 4th-largest amount of international air cargo in Japan, making it one of Okinawa’s key, growing industries. ANA’s cargo hub has drawn attention from Asian and Japanese markets due to Okinawa’s tax incentives and central location. In addition, ANA Holdings plans to establish an aircraft Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) facility for low-cost carriers at Naha International Airport.
Government policies continue to support investment in renewable energy systems. The “Okinawa Smart Energy Island Infrastructure Project” facilitates large-scale introduction of renewable energy sources, particularly photovoltaic solar and wind power. The 50kW ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) demonstration plant on the island of Kumejima started operation and the smart grid demonstration center opened on the island of Miyakojima in 2013. In 2016, Miyakojima city launched a public-private enterprise to commercialize the on-going Energy Management System demonstration for generating the renewable-energy related industry on the island.