National

Okinawa governor guardedly hopeful Trump will reduce U.S. base presence

Kyodo

The governor of Okinawa expressed guarded hope Wednesday that Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election may lead to a reduced military presence in the prefecture, where most U.S. military facilities in Japan are located.

During the campaign, Trump complained that Japan shoulders too little of the cost of stationing U.S. forces there, and said he would consider withdrawing those military forces.

“While I am hopeful about the kind of measures (Trump) will take regarding the Okinawa base issue, I would like to keep a close eye on it,” Gov. Takeshi Onaga told reporters at the prefectural government office. For years, the prefecture has called on Tokyo and Washington to ease its burden from hosting U.S. military bases.

Onaga, who opposes the relocation of a key U.S. base within Okinawa, said he plans to travel to the United States again, possibly by early February, to make his case. Okinawa has opened an office in Washington to push for change.

“I want (Trump) to hear the voice of Okinawa,” Onaga said.

In the prefecture, where the base issue is a constant source of friction between the central and local governments, some local officials and residents are now watching for any sign that Trump could break the stalemate over the issue.

“There is an impact, and the Okinawa base issue could move (in a new direction),” a senior prefectural official said.

But the official also said “even if a new development arises, I cannot say that the move would always be in a positive direction.”

One of the contentious base-related issues in Okinawa is the plan to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is in a crowded residential area in Ginowan, with a new airstrip to be built in the Henoko coastal area of Nago. The local governments and residents have been pushing to move the base outside of Okinawa, while the central government has been trying to gain local consent for the plan, in line with an accord with the United States.

“There is a sense of hope that the base could be removed, but he (Trump) comes across as a man with a very hard-line stance,” said Kotaro Yakabi, 91, head of a group complaining about base noise and seeking state compensation. “If (we) do not work well with him, we might be forced to shoulder further burden, and that is frightening.”

Concern about increased Japan financial support for U.S. forces stationed in the country, the so-called host nation support package, is shared by residents in other base-hosting areas.

“The Japanese government could be forced to shoulder a greater burden” in terms of the financial contribution, said Yasuo Niikura, secretariat head of a peace group opposed to the basing of a U.S. aircraft carrier at the U.S. Navy’s Yokosuka base in Kanagawa Prefecture.

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