WASHINGTON – Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga expressed hope Thursday that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump will adopt a new policy toward U.S. military bases on the island prefecture.
Referring to the drastic changes Trump has made since taking office on Jan. 20, Onaga said in a speech in Washington he hopes the new president will take U.S. policy on bases, including the long-delayed relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, in “a better direction.”
The bilateral policy concerning Okinawa has remained constant under previous administrations on both sides, leaving the prefecture “full of bases,” Onaga told the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at George Washington University.
“I don’t think it will get any worse than today,” he said.
“In that sense, I am forecasting some changes with President Trump.
“I hope he will lead us in a different direction.”
Onaga said he held talks with Republican and Democratic members of Congress about local opposition to the Japan-U.S. plan to move Futenma from crowded Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.
“It’s not yes or no. We don’t want (a new U.S. base) anymore,” the governor said, citing the fact Okinawa accounts for a mere 0.6 percent of the land in Japan but hosts more than 70 percent of all U.S. military facilities in the country.
Onaga said he briefly met and spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when they happened to be at the same breakfast meeting Thursday at a Washington hotel. But they did not discuss the Futenma issue.
Onaga has demanded the Futenma base be moved off Okinawa. During the five-day visit to Washington ending Saturday, he aims to tell the Trump administration that many residents of Okinawa oppose the relocation plan because they want to reduce the burden of hosting the bulk of America’s forces in Japan.
The relocation plan, delayed for two decades, is a key part of a broader bilateral agreement to reorganize U.S. military forces in Japan.
The Japanese government maintains that relocating Futenma to Henoko is the “only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the air station without undermining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. alliance. It says this deterrence is needed as regional tensions fueled by China’s assertive territorial claims at sea and North Korea’s weapons program mount.
In 2004, a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crashed at Okinawa International University, which is adjacent to the base, injuring the crew.