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British Editor Visits Japan Update: PILKINGTON INTERVIEW

By: Julio Barthson

Date Posted: 2000-02-12

JAPAN UPDATE: What brought you to Okinawa?
EDWARD PILKINGTON: The Government of Japan has one of these bursary systems for academic scholars, researchers and reporters. I made contact with the Japanese Embassy in London, expressing my interest in the program, and that is how I was selected to come this time. I’m not here as a reporter in the strict sense. It’s more a study tour, during which I still get to choose what I want to do. I was in Tokyo for a series of meetings with authorities, then our GUARDIAN correspondent recommended that I visit Okinawa because of its strategic importance with the US Military bases here and the G8 Summit coming up later this year.

J.U.: Which officials did you meet in Okinawa?
E.P.: I met with Mayor Kishimoto of Nago, Okinawa’s Governor Inamine, Col. Overmars at Butler and some other US Military officials on Foster and Futenma, then Professor Tomikawa, an Economics lecturer at the International University. I had more discussions and interviews with several Japanese authorities.

J.U.: From your discussions and what you saw, do you think that Okinawa is getting ready to host the G8 Summit?
E.P.: Yes. The Summit buildings are in good progress. However, I’m not so sure about how soon the Press Center will be completed. We’re still quite a long way from the Summit. That is, relatively... But there’s a lot of work going on in the streets, lots of renovations. I just can’t say when the Press Center will be ready...

J.U.: What is the general perception in Britain about the choice of Okinawa for the Summit this year? Does Nago compare to any previous G8 Summit site in Europe?
E.P.: Well, I personally think it’s an unusual choice. And so do many observers in the world, even here in Japan. People are not very used to important events involving powerful heads of state and government being moved away from the capital or major cities. I think the choice of Okinawa is a big risk, but a good decision. It shows that Okinawa has not been forgotten by the central government in Tokyo. Okinawa is also a brilliant spot for relaxation and serious talk without pressure.

J.U.: How much coverage is The GUARDIAN planning to give the Okinawa Summit?
E.P.: I have not yet decided. It’s still along way off. Our coverage of that Summit will depend very much on current events at that time. It will depend, for example, on whether Chechnya is still an explosive issue, since Russia is part of the G8. We’ll decide 3 or 4 weeks to the event.

J.U.: In that case, are you interested only in the G8 Summit itself or in Okinawa as a whole?
E.P.: We’re interested in everything that Okinawa represents. Past, present and future... The whole debate about the military bases, for example. That’s more current than the Summit, which is still several months off. The bases are here, and they won’t go away. And there will be no 15-year limit on the base that will replace Futenma in Nago. My discussions with Japanese authorities in Tokyo and some American military authorities leave no doubt on that issue. However, I must say that I have noticed a difference in position on that issue between Tokyo and Okinawa’s Governor Inamine, who promises to continue pressing for his voters’ position. Well, generally, the people of Okinawa are not anti-American, but they harbor anti-base sentiments. It’s clear that a good number of them favor a reduction in the number of US bases.

J.U.: So, is there anything new that you learnt about the Japan-US Military partnership?
E.P.: Not much. Nothing new... They’re on the same side. The Government of Japan wants the US military presence here. Tokyo doesn’t want to have to develop an offensive force that would upset Korea and China. They don’t want to open a can of worms locally either. My guess is that a majority would like to see the bases reduced and some of the jobs they have on US bases replaced by Japanese corporate jobs. But there’s no anti-American feeling.

J.U.: Are US bases or military issues as much an issue in Britain as they’re here in Japan?
E.P.: No, not really... They were in the 80’s, especially with Greenham Common... the feminist camps and antinuclear base protests. Many people were arrested. There were also some problems in the north of Scotland concerning a nuclear submarine issue, but it sort of died down with the end of the Cold War. There are still quite a few rumbles now and then, but not much in terms of protest against US presence in Europe.

Interview conducted by
Julio Barthson.

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