The percentage of Okinawans who accept the presence of U.S. military facilities in their prefecture exceeds the percentage of those opposed to the bases for the first time since 1975, according to the results of a government poll released Saturday.
According to the Cabinet Office, 45.7 percent of the residents responding to the survey said they accept the U.S. bases on their soil, saying they are “necessary” or “unavoidable.”
But 44.4 percent of Okinawans said they are not happy at playing host to the U.S. military.
The poll questioned 2,000 adults, of whom 68.7 percent responded.
Among the male respondents, those who tolerate the U.S. military presence outnumber opponents by 54.7 percent to 39.4 percent, but the corresponding figures are reversed among female respondents, at 38.5 percent and 48.3 percent.
According to the poll, 20.6 percent said the U.S. bases are “unnecessary,” down 4.3 points from the previous poll in 1994, while 23.8 percent said they pose a danger to Japan’s security, down 5.6 points.
The poll also showed that 9.8 percent believe the U.S. military presence is “necessary” for Japan’s security, up 2 points, while 35.9 percent said it is “unavoidable,” up 4.9 points.
Okinawa accounts for only 0.6 percent of Japan’s total land mass, but is home to about 75 percent of the land occupied by U.S. military facilities in Japan.
The findings of the poll come at a time when people in Okinawa are concerned about their jobs amid a prolonged economic slowdown. The jobless rate in Okinawa is roughly twice the national average.
Tetsumi Takara, a professor of law at the University of the Ryukyus, said the economic benefits of U.S. bases might have influenced the responses.
“I guess the economic benefit may have helped many people reply that ‘the bases are unavoidable’,” he said.
“But it is too early to conclude that the latest survey shows ‘Okinawa approves of the bases’ because public opinion can changes drastically in Okinawa, particularly after accidents and scandals involving the U.S. military,” he said.
Okinawa ‘not crucial’
WASHINGTON (Kyodo) A scholar on defense issues at a U.S. think tank told visiting Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine on Friday that the number of U.S. Marines stationed in the prefecture could be drastically cut from the current 15,000 level as the bases there have little military value.
Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at the Department of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the United States, however, is concerned that if it agrees to reduce or integrate its military bases in Okinawa, it would eventually have to completely withdraw its military presence from the region.
But O’Hanlon told Inamine that the U.S. could agree to reduce the number of troops in Okinawa if the prefectural government allows the U.S. military to retain certain facilities such as ports and airports.
Inamine told O’Hanlon that any kind of “trade-off” concerning the base problem would be difficult and would be met with strong opposition from local residents.
The governor is in Washington on the first leg of a two-week tour of the U.S. to confer with senior U.S. government officials on issues concerning the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Okinawa’s Ginowan.
He is also hoping to convey to Americans the feelings of local residents, who view the U.S. military presence in the prefecture as a heavy burden.
Calls for a reduction in the U.S. military presence in Okinawa have become stronger in the wake of a series of crimes committed by U.S. Marines stationed there and their family members.
The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly and several town assemblies have adopted resolutions calling for withdrawal of the troops or a reduction in their number.
Okinawa Prefecture is home to about 75 percent of land occupied by U.S. military facilities in Japan.
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