Amid claim and counterclaim by activists and politicians over the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station, one factor is often ignored: what ordinary Okinawans think about the move.
There was a testy exchange at a news conference Tuesday between Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and a reporter from the Okinawa Times, one of the prefecture’s two largest newspapers.
The newspaper’s latest poll found that 76.1 percent of residents are opposed to “the construction of a new base” off Henoko in Nago as a replacement for the Futenma base.
The sample size was only 610 respondents, but it nevertheless points to a majority of Okinawans opposing the plan.
The poll, conducted Friday through Sunday, also showed an approval rating of 83 percent for Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who has pledged to use every available measure to block the plan to move the base to Henoko.
Suga insisted the move is still on track, saying local leaders elected by Okinawans and who were in power at the time gave the green light.
He ran through the history of the relocation plan. In 1999, he said, then-Gov. Keiichi Inamine and Nago Mayor Tateo Kishimoto agreed to moving Futenma to Henoko, and that the relocation plan drawn up by Tokyo reflects their agreement.
Suga also cited Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima as accepting the plan and agreeing in December 2013 to landfill work off Henoko. That work is now beginning.
“The (central) government listened to opinions of people who are said to represent Okinawan residents,” Suga said.
But if the Times poll is anything to go by, most Okinawans now disagree with their previous leaders’ decisions and want the base moved out of the prefecture altogether.
Onaga ousted Nakaima last November with an unambiguous campaign promise: to block the relocation.
Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, a fellow opponent of relocation, was re-elected in January 2014, beating Bunshin Suematsu, a pro-base candidate who supported the Henoko plan.
Observers say it is difficult for Abe to make any compromise over the Henoko project before going to Washington later this month and meeting with President Barack Obama.