Okinawa concerned about defense build-up, 51 years after returning to Japan

Monday marks 51 years since Japan's southern prefecture of Okinawa was returned to the country from postwar US rule.

The island prefecture was under American administration for 27 years until May 15, 1972. The United States took control of it in 1945 after the Battle of Okinawa -- one of the most intense ground clashes that occurred during the final stages of World War Two.

Many in Okinawa argue that they still bear a disproportionate burden of the ongoing US military presence. The prefecture hosts about 70 percent of all American military facilities in Japan, even though it accounts for less than 1 percent of the country's total land area.

Residents continue to be plagued by problems stemming from the US bases, including noise from military aircraft and repeated criminal offenses by American service members.

Against this backdrop, Japan is planning to build more Self-Defense Forces facilities in the prefecture to strengthen defense capabilities in its southwestern islands.

It announced last year that it would deploy multiple missile units in Okinawa's main island and the country's western-most island of Yonaguni, which is located just over 100 kilometers from Taiwan. The SDF also opened a new camp on Ishigaki Island in March.

In addition, the government appears to be considering deploying in the area standoff missiles capable of longer-range attacks. Officials explain that such weapons could be used to target enemy positions in counterstrikes.

But those plans are raising concerns among local residents, who strongly fear that their islands could become enemy targets.

More than half a century since Okinawa was returned to Japanese rule, the prefecture is bearing an increasing burden from efforts to beef up national security.