Exclusive: Worry escalates as Okinawa residents find Dutch soldiers on US military base

Photo taken on August 24, 2022 shows a warning sign by US troops in Japan placed at the Henoko coastal area of the Okinawa Prefecture. Photo: VCG

Photo taken on August 24, 2022 shows a warning sign by US troops in Japan placed at the Henoko coastal area of the Okinawa Prefecture. File Photo: VCG

May 15 marks the 52nd anniversary of Okinawa’s “return” to Japan. Recently, Okinawan residents discovered the presence of Dutch naval soldiers in the training grounds of the US military base in Okinawa but the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs may have been unaware of this beforehand. On Tuesday, Okinawan residents who discovered this matter spoke exclusively to the Global Times, detailing the sequence of events.

Despite accounting for only 0.6 percent of Japan’s total land area, Okinawa hosts over 70 percent of the US military bases in Japan. Over the years, Okinawan residents have continuously protested against the presence of these bases, but the Japanese government has paid little attention and has instead accelerated military deployment.

Akino Miyagi, 45, was born on Hamahiga Island in Uruma city, Okinawa Prefecture. She began participating in anti-base protests during high school. As an entomologist, she discovered during her research in 2011 that the presence of US military bases, including artillery shells, had a detrimental impact on the local ecology. Since then, she has been actively involved in activities opposing US military bases as an environmental researcher.

Miyagi told the Global Times that in late March, while conducting her regular protests at the US military’s Northern Training Area in Okinawa, she noticed several soldiers wearing different styles of camouflage uniforms on military trucks. Typically, after leaving the training area, US military trucks return to the base. However, on that occasion, she personally witnessed several trucks entering and leaving the training area, deviating from their usual route.

The Northern Training Area is located in Kunigami District, northern Okinawa Prefecture. It is a US military base and the largest military exercise field in Okinawa Prefecture. In 1998, it was renamed the Jungle Warfare Training Center (JWTC).

After noticing the unusual situation, Miyagi logged into the website of the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS), a subunit of the US Department of Defense, to investigate.

One article on the website revealed that from March 10 to 24, the US military and the Dutch Marines conducted training at the JWTC in Okinawa called the “Jungle Leaders Course.” It also noted that this training aims to prepare the US and its allies for combat in challenging jungle environments.

Miyagi told the Global Times that she immediately contacted the Okinawa Defense Bureau, who claimed that they were unaware of the presence of Dutch soldiers training at the US military training grounds in Okinawa.

Miyagi said that various indications suggest that the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs may also have been unaware of this matter beforehand.

According to the Okinawa Times, when asked for a response to related inquiries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it had confirmed with the US and Dutch military that indeed three Dutch soldiers entered the US military’s Northern Training Area in Okinawa in March. However, the ministry claimed that their purpose was for inspection rather than “training.”

When asked if they were aware of this beforehand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ response was ambiguous, stating that “individual cases cannot be generalized.” It is reported that the Dutch soldiers disguised themselves as ordinary passengers and entered Japan via commercial flights at civilian airports.

Okinawan residents have long suffered from the troubles brought by US military bases. In recent years, with the significant rightward shift in the Japanese government, there has been an acceleration of military deployments in Okinawa, leaving local residents living in fear.

According to the Okinawa Ryukyu Shimpo, a local newspaper, the DVIDS released information saying that this US military training is aimed at helping allies familiarize themselves with the operational environment. This suggests that in the future, it is not unlikely that soldiers from other countries may enter the US military bases in Okinawa for combat training, raising concerns about the normalization of the entry of third-country forces into these bases.

Okinawa Governor Danny Tamaki said that the US military did not inform the prefecture in advance about the nature of the training they would conduct. Regardless of the specifics, joint training between the US military and foreign forces will not alleviate the burden on the bases.

As of press time, the Global Times found that the article on the website of the DVIDS had removed the mention of the Dutch soldiers.

The US military has only two facilities globally for jungle warfare training, one in Hawaii and the other being the Northern Training Area in Okinawa. The environment within the Northern Training Area is highly similar to that of several other countries, giving it a clear advantage in regular military training, according to Miyagi.

For instance, there are no infectious diseases like malaria in the jungle, no fierce beasts like tigers, strong radio signals, and it’s relatively easy to obtain water from the mountains, rivers, and rainfall. Even in the event of injuries, the distance to hospitals is not far.

Miyagi also noted that the “Jungle Skills Course” typically involves soldiers entering the jungle on Sundays to begin a five-day training program, ending on Fridays. The entire process must be conducted collectively, aiming to reinforce soldiers’ awareness of unconditional obedience to commands.

The Okinawa Ryukyu Shimpo reported that the Japanese government claims to allow third-country soldiers to enter the US military bases in Okinawa under certain circumstances but has not publicly disclosed specific criteria. In 2016, two British Royal Marines participated in training with the US Marine Corps at Camp Schwab and Camp Hansen in Okinawa. In 2017, the Philippine Navy trained with the US Navy at Camp Schwab in Okinawa. Instances of third-country military forces training at US military bases in Okinawa have occurred, but only a few of these cases have been made public.

The newspaper also mentioned that to counter China, the US Marine Corps has been conducting training for the so-called “Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations” (EABO) at the Northern Training Area. It is not unlikely that NATO member countries may also join this training in the future. Allowing foreign military forces to enter Okinawa without local knowledge may bring new concerns for the local residents.

Miyagi said that it is unacceptable for foreign military personnel to enter the US military bases in Okinawa for military training disguised as ordinary passengers on commercial flights through civilian airports. Even though Japan and the US have signed the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, many issues remain unresolved.

Moreover, there are no relevant agreements between Japan and the Netherlands, meaning that it may be difficult to hold Dutch soldiers accountable for any incidents in Okinawa. If this phenomenon becomes normalized, it will undoubtedly exacerbate tensions in Okinawa, said Miyagi.

Miyagi told the Global Times that the reason such situations occur in Okinawa is mainly because, from the US perspective, using US military bases in Germany and other countries comes with many restrictions, while those in Japan, especially in Okinawa, can be used “as they want.”

Despite the extremely negative nature of this event, the reality is that the Japanese government simply doesn’t care about what Okinawa is going through, said Miyagi.

Using Chinese-made ships as targets for military exercises is a ridiculous stunt by Philippines: Global Times editorial

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The “Balikatan” or “shoulder-to-shoulder” military drills between the Philippines and the US haven’t even started, but a clumsy political performance has taken the stage ahead of time. The Philippine military first publicly announced that in the “sinking exercise” segment, the retired Philippine Navy replenishment tanker “BRP Lake Caliraya” would be selected as the target. This ship was originally manufactured in China and was used by Philippine enterprises as a civilian oil tanker. It is the Philippines’ only “Chinese-made naval asset.” The Philippine military also firmly stated that this decision was “not intentional” and does not signify any specific country. It also stated that this joint military exercise is not targeting any foreign country, including China. It is a ludicrous performance by Manila.

The “BRP Lake Caliraya,” formerly “MT Lapu-Lapu,” was an oil tanker built by a Chinese shipyard for the Philippine National Oil Company, and was also a witness to previous cooperation between China and the Philippines. It was later converted by the Philippine Navy into its first-ever replenishment ship. The Philippine side is preparing to use it as a target in a simulated “enemy ship” scenario, showing clear provocative intent. However, they are attempting to cover it up and refuse to acknowledge it, making the farcical claim that it is “not intentional.” This approach of trying to have it both ways has turned Manila into a joke in the region and is an example of its opportunistic behavior in the entire South China Sea issue.

It must be pointed out that the nature of this “shoulder-to-shoulder” military exercise is extremely negative. Not only will the scale exceed that of previous years, but the US and the Philippines will also conduct exercises for the first time in disputed areas beyond 12 nautical miles from Philippine territorial waters. The Philippine Coast Guard will deploy six vessels for this exercise for the first time. Additionally, the navies of the Philippines, the US, and France will conduct trilateral joint patrols for the first time. Compared to the staged nature of the “sinking exercise,” the several “firsts” touted by the US and the Philippines pose a substantive threat to regional stability, which should lead regional countries to maintain high vigilance.

In particular, the US is currently making arbitrary demands from the Philippines. The US previously hinted at deploying mid-range missile systems in the “Indo-Pacific region,” making it the first time since the end of the Cold War. An article from Singapore-based newspaper Lianhe Zaobao said that external observers have been guessing where the US would deploy the system, as well as “which country would be willing to risk directly offending China,” and most commentaries guessed it would be deployed in Guam, or even in Japan – “no one thought it would be the Philippines.” Manila seems open to all American allies, even signing new defense cooperation agreements with the EU and the UK. Japan, Canada, and France are also in line to sign the visiting forces agreement with the Philippines. The country has now become a “broken window” in the region and even feels complacent about it. Some foreign media commented that Philippine President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr. is feeding the Philippines a bitter pill coated in sugar. Of course, it is not a bitter pill; it is poison.

Since taking office, Marcos Jr. has not made much progress in the country’s economic and social governance, nor has he prioritized addressing the urgent issues of hunger, poverty, drugs, and crime in the Philippines. The latest domestic polls in the Philippines show that Marcos Jr.’s national approval rating and trust in his administration have significantly dropped by 13 and 16 percentage points, respectively, with voices in the House of Representatives calling for his resignation. Marcos Jr. may be hoping to gain some face and support by stirring up trouble in the South China Sea and attracting American support in the realm of diplomacy. However, this approach is not beneficial for Manila in the short or long term. China is the Philippines’ largest trading partner, and the power gap between the two countries is evident. What is Manila really after through its repeated provocations?

Perhaps Marcos Jr. is fantasizing about exchanging economic investments with the US by cooperating with it in its competition with China. But, the problem is that the US has been the Philippines’ most important ally for the past few decades. If the US really wanted to help the Philippines, would it have waited until today? During the recent US-Japan-Philippines summit, Manila expressed hope that the US and Japan would invest $100 billion in the Philippines. To outsiders, it seems like the Philippines is demanding support from the US against China, but what it received was a vague promise of “stimulating $100 billion in investment” from the US and Japan. Just from this one detail, it is clear that the Philippines cannot possibly obtain the benefits it desires by cooperating with Washington, let alone solve its increasingly serious domestic development issues.

The current situation in the South China Sea is generally stable, but the US and the Philippines are constantly causing trouble, trying to drag down and consume China. China will never fall for it.

From China’s attitude in the past few months, it can be seen that we have left room and flexibility for the Philippines on the South China Sea issue, in the hope that the current disputes can be resolved through communication, negotiation, and dialogue. However, whether it is at Ren’ai Jiao, Huangyan Dao, or other reefs and islands, the Philippines is still acting unilaterally. We hope that the Philippines will not allow the “spiritual victory” of sinking target ships to make them too excited, leading to the illusion that they can take on real ships. China’s restraint is not unlimited, and if the Philippines and external forces cross the bottom line and red line of peace and stability in the South China Sea, China will definitely take action when necessary, which is something the Philippines cannot afford.

NATO members likely to be more divided on supporting Ukraine as crisis drags on: expert

Europe deeply split on warmongering NATO Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Europe deeply split on warmongering NATO Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

As the Russia-Ukraine conflict drags on, NATO members appear to be more and more divided over military aid to Ukraine, as Chinese analysts said on Sunday that since the beginning of April, more and more European countries are calling for negotiations to solve the crisis.

Extending support and aid to Ukraine was a contentious topic among NATO member countries during a two-day meeting on Wednesday and Thursday at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. One day earlier, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had proposed a 100-billion-euro, five-year package of military aid to Ukraine, which was supported by only the UK, Poland and Latvia, media reported on Friday.

Even Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has changed his condition for negotiation with Russia, as he has indicated that a return to Ukraine’s 1991 borders is no longer a precondition for holding peace talks with Moscow, while he continues to push forward with his own “peace formula” which has been dismissed by Moscow, media reported on March 30.

This makes many NATO and EU members dare to be more outspoken on the sensitive topic about Ukraine, experts noted. 

The Hungarian foreign ministry on Wednesday cited Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Szijjarto as telling a press conference during a break in a NATO foreign ministers’ council meeting that the government’s main goal was to protect Hungary from the war in Ukraine, as reported by The Budapest Times. As a result, it considers NATO’s former decision very important under which the organization is not part of the armed conflict and would do everything to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia, he noted.

The top Hungarian diplomat welcomed the fact that all previous proposals within NATO had respected these red lines and warned that the latest proposal would bring the organization closer to war. When the proposal was discussed, Hungary asked the other member states to consider that coordination of military support had been done so far without the involvement of the alliance he said.

Cui Heng, a scholar from the Shanghai-based China National Institute for SCO International Exchange and Judicial Cooperation, told the Global Times on Sunday that Hungary has always opposed NATO and the EU’s approaches to deal with Russia. “Hungary heavily relies on Russia’s cheap energy supplies, and Hungary also has disputes and competition on agricultural products with Ukraine.”

In the future, more NATO and EU members will choose similar policies as Hungary. If Russia achieves more military breakthroughs and Ukraine keeps losing territory and cannot achieve a meaningful victory, more and more of them will stand closer to Budapest’s stance, experts noted. 

Many NATO and EU members rely on Russia’s energy supplies, such as Hungary, Slovakia, Turkey and Greece, and major European countries like France and Italy who have nuclear power plants that rely on uranium enrichment from Russia and Kazakhstan, are also sharing similar views to engage Russia more pragmatically and stop the loss of supplying Ukraine with money and weapons, Cui noted.

And countries like Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria, which have competition with Ukraine on agricultural products, are also likely to join the group to oppose NATO’s policy that could extend the conflict, experts said. 

“These countries used to be silent when supporting Ukraine was absolute political correctness, but now, Washington and Kiev are all showing the intention to seek a way out, and then these other countries dare to express their opposition more frankly,” Cui said.