Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga on Friday met with U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy in Tokyo and told her of his opposition to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa. It was Onaga’s first meeting with the ambassador since he took office in December.
Speaking afterwards, the governor said he reminded Kennedy that his election represents the will of the people and reflects the widespread opposition in Okinawa to moving the base within the prefecture.
“The results of the mayoral election in Nago, the Okinawa gubernatorial election and the Lower House election last year showed public opinion is against building a base in Henoko. I share the same opinion, so I asked for understanding of that,” Onaga told reporters after the 40-minute meeting at the U.S. Embassy.
In the gubernatorial election in November, Onaga ousted Hirokazu Nakaima after vowing to stop the base’s relocation to a mooted new site built partly upon reclaimed land off the coast near Camp Schwab in Henoko.
Onaga has said Futenma should be removed from Okinawa once and for all to reduce the U.S. military’s footprint on one of Japan’s smallest prefectures.
In the December Lower House election, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party lost all four of the prefecture’s single-seat constituencies in Okinawa to anti-base rivals, while Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, who also opposes the bilateral relocation plan, won re-election in January 2014.
The meeting came on the heels of Onaga’s visits to Hawaii and Washington from May 27 to June 5, in which he met with U.S. government officials and lawmakers to hammer home the view from Okinawa.
Meanwhile, Kennedy reiterated the U.S. government’s position, saying the relocation plan is the “only solution” to deal with various concerns, the embassy said in a statement.
“(Kennedy) reiterated that the plan to expand Camp Schwab avoids the continued use of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and is the only solution that addresses operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns,” the statement said.
Kennedy also expressed “sincere appreciation to Okinawa for its vital contributions to the U.S.-Japan Alliance, which is the cornerstone of peace and stability in East Asia,” it said.
According to Onaga, the ambassador said she would attend a memorial service in Okinawa on Tuesday marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa, which claimed more than 200,000 lives in the closing days of the war.
The governor also added he hopes to have further talks with Kennedy in the future to discuss the various issues Okinawa faces.