OSAKA – As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe readies to meet U.S. president-elect Donald Trump Thursday in New York, some in Okinawa hope Trump’s business experience means he will decide that relocating a U.S. base on the island is economically unfeasible and should be scrapped.
Prior to the election, Trump repeatedly said the U.S. was paying too much to keep troops overseas and that Japan should pay more for hosting them. He also indicated he would consider withdrawing troops from Japan unless Tokyo agreed to increase the amount of money it spends on housing and food.
Japan’s expenditure on the U.S. military under a so-called “sympathy budget” is about ¥192 billion in 2016, up from about ¥190 billion in 2015. When other directly and indirectly related expenses are included, Japan pays up to half the costs of hosting U.S. troops.
But in Okinawa, Trump’s election has raised hopes in anti-base quarters that Trump, a billionaire businessman who made his fortune in real estate, will come to view the long-standing attempt to relocate the U.S. Marine Air Station Futenma to Henoko in northern Okinawa as a land deal gone bad. Following the election, Okinawan media suggested Trump’s victory meant that building the replacement facility was back to square one.
“Two decades have elapsed since the U.S. and Japan originally agreed to the return of Futenma, and yet nothing has happened. As a former businessman, and now as president, there’s hope that Trump will realize that, from a business and economic angle, the Henoko relocation is impossible,” said Satoshi Taira, a leader of an Okinawa group opposed to Henoko.
“Okinawan opposition to Henoko has remained strong, and the Japanese government hasn’t been able to carry through with its promise to carry out the Henoko plan. Even if it were possible, it would still take more than 10 years to complete. Is it economically feasible to wait so long?,” he added.
Okinawan Upper House lawmaker Yoichi Iha, who also opposes the move, said there was some hope in Okinawa that Trump would think in more practical, business-like terms.
“With the planned relocation of the Okinawa Marines to Guam, it’s clear they do not need to be in Okinawa. In addition, Trump has said he wants to rebuild America’s infrastructure. Bringing back the Marines helps create a sort of ‘market’ justification for these new infrastructure projects,” Iha said.
Okinawa Gov. Takashi Onaga, who wants Futenma relocated out of Okinawa, is expected to visit Washington D.C. in February and press his case with U.S. lawmakers and policy experts. Following Trump’s election win, the governor expressed cautious optimism it would lead to a reduction in the number of U.S. troops in the prefecture.
The latest available prefectural statistics for the number of U.S. troops stationed on Okinawa show there were about 27,000 as of July 2011, including about 15,300 Marines.
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