【Report】Security on Okinawa: Power, agency and identity as layers of discursive praxis

Summary of the public lecture delivered by Dr Ra Mason
25 May 2023
Title: Security on Okinawa: power, agency, and identity as layers of discursive praxis

Dr. Ra Mason, Sasakawa Associate Professor of International Relations and Japanese Foreign Policy at the University of East Anglia (UEA), has been visiting Institute of International Relations and Area Studies Ritusmeikan University under the faculty exchange programme based on the Memorandum of Agreement between Ritsumeikan University (RU) and University of East Anglia (UEA).

In addition to conducting research to deepen RU-UEA research collaboration, Dr Ra delivered a public lecture on his on-going research project. In the lecture, Dr Mason proposes a layered security approach to understanding security. Security is viewed as an ideal condition which provides an environment free from physical conflict, socio-political oppression, and other barriers in creating an environment where socio-economic and cultural activity may flourish. Through the layered security approach, the question of security is perceived as being layered in international and domestic power structures, how key actors exercise agency, and the role of ideas in shaping identity and informing actions.

Dr Mason demonstrates the application of the layered security approach using a case study of Okinawa. He argues Okinawa has yet to achieve a state of security due to conflicting influences at all levels. Okinawa, by virtue of its geographic location and role in history, has always been in the middle of great power politics. This has resulted in the proliferation of narratives surrounding the strategic value of Okinawa as a “keystone of the Pacific” in the maritime territorial disputes between Japan, China, and Taiwan. These narratives, however, only serve to increase Okinawa’s insecurity.

One notable manifestation of Okinawa’s insecurity is the presence of U.S. military bases on the island. The bases, which have historical roots, have been a source of ongoing controversy with widespread strategic and day-to-day implications. The positioning of military bases on the island, he argues, may actually reduce the security of Okinawa as it makes the city a target in a potential military conflict. Moreover, the military bases have implications on daily life for Okinawan citizens. On the one hand, the military bases provide a source of employment. On the other hand, the bases also serve as safety and environmental hazards to the citizens.

Dr Mason concludes the lecture by proposing to address all sources of insecurity at all layers. Structurally, great powers ought to seek détente and avoid escalation of regional tensions. Normatively, parties should promote regional peaceful co-existence. At the local level, dialogue must be held with relevant stakeholders for mutual social and economic benefit.

In the following discussion session, participants and Dr Mason discussed the ongoing controversies of present U.S. military bases in Okinawa and the effects on citizens and environment based on their own observations and experiences. Furthermore, participants also discussed the prospects and recent developments of the territorial disputes between China, Japan, and Taiwan, and its implications to Okinawan security in particular, and to regional security in Northeast Asia in general.

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(Written by I Gusti Bagus Dharma AGASTIA, a PhD student at Ritsumeikan University)