CNN – When Caroline Kennedy arrived as the first female United States ambassador to Japan last November, thousands cheered. For many, the only daughter of President John F. Kennedy is a nostalgic reminder of the glory that was Camelot. But she wasted no time in weighing in on a controversial topic – condemning Japan’s bloody dolphin hunts on Twitter.
Now, Kennedy is set to visit another area of controversy, Okinawa. Washington and Tokyo view the island and the 14 U.S. military bases located there as strategically vital.
“Going to Okinawa as a representative of the American government sends a signal that the U.S.-Japan relationship is a key element for maintaining peace and stability in the rest of Asia,” said Keith Henry, principal officer, Asia Strategy
In the closing days of World War II, more than 100,000 civilians died during the battle of Okinawa. After the war, both countries agreed the U.S. would permanently station its armed forces in Japan to defend the country from any external threats.
Okinawa has about 25,000 troops based there and in recent years, tens of thousands of Okinawans have protested their presence. The Okinawa Prefectural Police tells CNN that between 1972 and 2012, members of the U.S. military have been accused of committing more than 5,800 criminal offenses, including 26 murders and 128 rapes. One of the most shocking was the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three servicemen in 1995. More than 80,000 protestors took to the streets demanding the U.S. leave Okinawa. More rapes followed, the most recent in 2012.
Since then, the military has modified some of its policies. In December, after 17 years of negotiations, Okinawa’s governor agreed to move forward with the relocation of an airbase in Futenma. But many here say that’s not enough.
“I oppose the bases because we cannot eliminate the possibilities of becoming victims of these crimes,” said Okinawa resident Seisaku Nakazato.
A base visit is not part of Ambassador Kennedy’s official itinerary but, as it was with her father, her position, coupled with the Kennedy mystique, ensures that her every move will be scrutinized.
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