NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – As Okinawa marked the 45th anniversary of its reversion to Japanese rule, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga expressed frustration Monday with the continued presence of U.S. military bases in his prefecture.
“Even after the reversion, (Okinawa) continues to suffer from incidents and accidents linked to U.S. bases, environmental and other concerns,” Onaga said in a statement, calling the bases the “biggest impediment to development” there.
Okinawa hosts the bulk of the U.S. military facilities in Japan, and the consequences of that decades-long task have caused fierce resentment against U.S. servicemen. Crimes linked to the bases are a source of constant grievance.
Despite initial hopes that its base-hosting duties would ease after the reversion, Onaga said Okinawa remains in a “difficult situation.”
In May 1972, when Okinawa was returned to Japanese control, the area exclusively used for U.S. military facilities there amounted to about 27,893 hectares. As of January this year, the area had shrunk to 18,609 hectares, down around 33.3 percent.
Compared with what happens on Japan’s main islands, the pace of base reduction in Okinawa is slow. Despite accounting for only 0.6 percent of the country’s land, Okinawa holds 70.6 percent of the area occupied by U.S. military facilities in Japan.
Referring to a long-stalled plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma elsewhere on Okinawa, Onaga said he would keep up the fight.
“I will devote myself to tackling matters such as the bases issue to build a peaceful and prosperous Okinawa” for future generations.
Onaga, who opposes the plan, has demanded the Futenma base be kicked off Okinawa rather than transferred to a replacement facility under construction in less-populated Henoko, a coastal area in Nago.
On Sunday, around 2,200 people gathered on the shores near Henoko to protest the contentious plan as protesters began a march Friday for the same cause.
“We will not condone the (central) government’s high-handed way of imposing the bases on Okinawa,” said Fujiko Matsuda, a 77-year-old Nago resident.
Tokyo and Washington agreed on the transfer back in 1996, but the process has been delayed by fierce local opposition. The sea off Henoko hosts coral reefs and is home to the endangered dugong.
Despite the opposition, the central government began land reclamation work in Henoko on April 25. It maintains the relocation plan is not opposed by all in Okinawa, and says it will continue to push for its completion to eliminate the risk of accidents posed by the base, which his situated in a densely crowded residential part of Ginowan.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, defended Tokyo’s policy on Okinawa on Monday, citing improved economic indicators in the prefecture and an agreement with the United States to move a portion of the Marines based in Okinawa to Guam.
Pledging the government’s continued assistance to the people of Okinawa, Suga told a news conference that Tokyo will fulfill promise to allocate ¥300 billion ($2.65 billion) in economic development funds to Okinawa in each annual budget until 2021.