Jul 21, 2023 - Podcasts

U.S.-China tensions threaten the island of Okinawa

U.S.-China tensions are at an all-time high and as relations deteriorate, the Japanese island of Okinawa is afraid of getting in the crosshairs. We take a closer look on how the geopolitical tensions are affecting the island.

  • Plus, why the gender pay gap is shrinking.
  • And, a new line of fashion dolls celebrates Latinas in America.

Guests: Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Emily Peck and Marina E. Franco.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Felix Salmon, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi, Lydia McMullen-Laird and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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FELIX SALMON: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, July 21st.

I’m Felix Salmon, in for Niala Boodhoo.

Today on the show: why the gender pay gap is shrinking. Plus, a new line of Barbie-esque dolls celebrates Latinas in America.

But first: US-China tensions stoke fears on the island of Okinawa. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

This week Chinese Defence minister Li Shangfu said that US China relations are at their lowest point since the of diplomatic relations.

That’s according to a statement released after a meeting with the man who helped establish those diplomatic ties in the first place, centenarian Henry Kissinger, who was Secretary of State during the Nixon administration.

And as relations deteriorate, one place fears it will get caught in the middle: the Japanese island of Okinawa.

For this week’s politics State of Play, a special Axios investigation funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting into how geopolitical tension between China and the US is stoking fears in Okinawa.

The tiny island is home to more than 70% of U.S. military facilities in all of Japan… and the U.S. has been there since World War II.

The Biden administration justifies its presence on Okinawa as a strategic protection of democracy in the region. But Okinawans have long been using their democratic right to protest the American military bases on the island.

Axios China reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian spoke with Yoshio Yonamine, a 69-year-old anti-base activist and Okinawa resident.

Yoshio is talking about fears Okinawa will again be the front line in a battle between superpowers.

And Bethany told us what makes this Island in the Pacific so important to the US’ strategy in Asia.

BETHANY ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN: Its location is what is so crucial. It's just about an hour's flight east of Taiwan. It's right in between China and Japan, just about halfway. And so that means that in the case of a conflict over Taiwan between the U. S. and China, the U. S. military facilities there would likely serve a key role in any military conflict.

FELIX: Many Okinawa residents have opposed the U.S. military presence for decades. Bethany spoke to local Okinawans about why.

BETHANY: Since 1972, when the island returned to Japan's sovereignty and Okinawa residents had democratic rights, they have marched almost every year to protest the U. S. bases and ask for them to be removed or closed or to have their presence, uh, reduced. And Many Okinawans consider themselves to be native Ryukyu. Ryukyu is the name of the independent kingdom that ruled Okinawa until the 17th century when a Japanese clan invaded.

So that, that plays into Okinawa's sense of being not only, colonized in a sense, but also Not having control over their own land. U. S. military bases occupy 15% of the land on Okinawa. There have been violent assaults against Okinawan women by U. S. service members. There have been helicopter crashes. And now with U. S. China tensions rising, many Okinawans are afraid that they're going to be Caught in the middle of another violent conflict.

FELIX: And for many Okanawans -- the worst case scenario would be a US-China conflict over Taiwan.

BETHANY: One of the very first things that would happen is that the Chinese military would very likely attack the U. S. military facilities on Okinawa, and then Okinawans would once again be caught up in a conflict between great powers that they don't want and that they, you know, personally have nothing to do with. Now we don't know if that's going to happen or not. The Chinese government, under Xi Jinping has reiterated that they have the right to use the military option on Taiwan if they wish. And Xi Jinping has ordered the people's liberation army to be prepared or to be ready to attack Taiwan by 2027, but we don't know what you know, Xi's intentions are, and I think it depends a lot on a lot of factors, including, you know, Taiwan domestic factors and also how long the U. S. is willing to continue to, you know, insist that it will come to the defense of Taiwan, which is something that President Biden has repeatedly said.

And it really shows the complexity of what it means to try to be preserving democracy in the face of a, you know, quite an aggressive authoritarian China.

FELIX: That’s Axios China’s Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.

In a moment, the wage gap for women is smaller than ever.

FELIX: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Felix Salmon, in for Niala Boodhoo.

The gender pay gap is the narrowest it has ever been since the US government began collecting data in 1979. Full time working women now earn 15.5% less than their male counterparts. Axios Emily Peck is here with the big picture. Is this good news or bad news, Emily?

EMILY PECK: It's good news!

FELIX: It's good news?

EMILY: Yeah, it's great news!

FELIX: 15.5% is still 15.5% too big, but it is as narrow as it's ever been. Why is it shrinking?

EMILY: Why is it shrinking? I think it has a lot to do with the historically tight labor market we're currently experiencing in the United States where there's a job for just about everyone. And a lot of the occupations that saw the highest wage growth recently were the lower paying jobs, which women do, make up a majority of workers in those categories. So they're getting a lot of the wage gains. And I think another thing that's going on here is remote work. During the pandemic, people were freaking out and thinking a lot of women were going to have to leave the workforce. You might've heard the term she-session.

FELIX: I remember that, but it was false. There was no she-session.

EMILY: It didn't turn out. Courtenay Brown, who wrote about this for Axios, talked to someone who actually called what's happening now a she-boom. And I think, part of the she-boom has to do with remote work that the higher wage earning women were able to stay attached to the workforce throughout the pandemic and beyond because they can work remotely, they can work from home, they can juggle more things. And I think that's given women the edge too here.

FELIX: What are the tailwinds here? What could bring that gap down in the future, and how fast do you think it can realistically be hoped to shrink?

EMILY: Yeah, I mean, this is a gap that's been so persistent and really has barely budged in, I don't know, the past ten years I've been looking at it. One thing maybe that could move it is for pay at the low end to go up even more say the United States were to raise the minimum wage or more minimum wages would go up around the country you could see that gap narrow a bit more and then more broadly we just need more women to get more higher paying jobs Felix.

FELIX: Emily Peck writes the fabulous daily Axios Markets newsletter, and if you don't read it already, please sign up. It's worth it.

EMILY: Thanks Felix.

FELIX: The first ever all-Latina doll line to be sold by major U.S. retailers is soon to hit shelves and it’s 64 years since Barbie first hit shelves. Marina Franco of Axios Latino has why this new line matters.

MARINA FRANCO: They're made by a small company called Purpose Toys, they are set to be, uh, released in August for sale at retailers like Walmart, Amazon, and Target. And the intent was to have these four dolls called Liv, Lola, Julianna, and Dani.

The creative team wanted them to represent sort of different Latino communities across the U. S. So one of them is from New York, another one is from Texas, one is from Florida, and one from California. They have different hair textures, different skin tones and varying facial features instead of just looking sameish.

It's actually kind of unbelievable that by 2023 we hadn't even had this yet, considering how long lines like the Barbie line have existed. I mean, we've had Gloria Estefan Barbie, which is cool. There's been a Frida Kahlo one. But those aren't necessarily something that maybe kids can play with the same way that they would with any other kind of doll.

So having this specifically Latina doll available, what I heard actually from the creative team is that the aspiration is that having four to choose from with different stylings and different hair can make Latino kids that choose to play with dolls be able to sort of feel like they're the main character in their story as well.

FELIX: That’s Axios’ Latino and Telemundo’s Marina Franco.

Axios Today is produced by Fonda Mwangi, Lydia McMullen-Laird and Robin Linn, along with senior sound engineer and producer Alex Sugiura. Alexandra Botti is our supervising producer.

Aja Whitaker Moore is Axios’ executive editor. And Sara Kehaulani Goo is Axios’ editor in chief.

I’m Felix Salmon in for Niala Boodhoo. Stay safe, enjoy Barbenheimer weekend and we’ll see you back here on Monday.

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