The mayor of Ginowan, the site of Okinawa’s contentious U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, hinted Wednesday he may run in the gubernatorial election scheduled for November and threatened to throw a spanner in the process of relocating the base within the prefecture.
Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, Yoichi Iha said the upcoming poll is a crucial opportunity for the people of Okinawa to voice their opposition to relocating the base to the Henoko coast in Nago, farther north on Okinawa Island.
“I myself believe that there is a great possibility that I will be one of the candidates” in the election, Iha said. “We must express how absolutely ridiculous it is that another base is about to be built 65 years after World War II.”
If elected, Iha said, he wouldn’t grant permission to fill in shallows off Henoko to build a new airstrip. By law, such land-fill must be approved by a prefecture’s governor.
“Hypothetically, I would definitely not allow the reclamation if I were governor,” Iha said.
While admitting that there were economic benefits from having U.S. bases in Okinawa, Iha said he believes the land for the bases has greater business potential.
“It is true that because of the presence of the U.S. military in Okinawa, the government has provided various financial aid,” Iha said. “But I think that (the financial support) is just to make up for the negative factor, the bases, and it’s not a big deal. Realistically, I think there will be much greater benefit for Okinawa if the bases are closed down and (their sites are) used for private-sector businesses.”
Calling the U.S. military the “No. 1 threat to Okinawa,” Iha also called for more steps to curb local crimes committed by U.S. service members.