New Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki on Wednesday vowed to fight against the transfer of a key U.S. airbase within the island prefecture, a day after the central government moved closer to resuming construction work — suspended in August — at the planned relocation site.
“I want to fulfill my pledge to halt the construction of the new military base and I will commit to it with all my heart,” said Tamaki, who won the Sept. 30 gubernatorial election following the death of his predecessor Takeshi Onaga, at a news conference in Tokyo.
The feud over the plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a densely populated area in Ginowan to the less populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago heated up in late August, when the Okinawa Prefectural Government retracted its earlier approval for landfill work at the Henoko site.
Land minister Keiichi Ishii countered the move by deciding Tuesday to invalidate the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s withdrawal of approval, in a step that was necessary in order for the central government to proceed with construction work. According to land ministry sources, the government is planning to resume work Thursday.
Tamaki, speaking at the Japan National Press Club, argued that the central government’s decision can be legally challenged and criticized the inadequate process of reviewing his prefecture’s arguments.
“I don’t want to be misunderstood that I’m demanding the retraction of all (military bases) from Okinawa. … But I won’t approve the construction of new facilities and introducing new functions (at Henoko),” he said. During his electoral campaign, Tamaki pledged to stop the construction of the new base and to reduce the heavy U.S. military presence on the island.
He also said his stance reflects the will of people in Okinawa, who have shouldered a disproportionate share of the burden in hosting U.S. military bases. Many locals say they have for too long suffered excessive noise pollution, aircraft accidents and misconduct by U.S. military personnel.
Tamaki said he has called on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to engage in dialogue, in the hope of convincing them to review the move.
The central government believes that the current relocation plan is the only viable solution for removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base, which is situated close to schools and homes, without undermining the deterrence provided by American troops, under the Japan-U.S. alliance, against potential outside aggressors.
Tamaki said he had been seeking more engagement from the central government over solutions that take into the account the defense of the country. He also wants Tokyo to provide a better explanation of the rationale behind the relocation to the people of Okinawa, who he insists were largely left out of the process that led to the approval of the Henoko site.
The former opposition lawmaker said he may even take part in sit-in protests with other activists at Henoko.
Touching on a planned prefectural referendum on the base relocation plan, Tamaki said he hopes to see a majority vote against the move to pressure the central government to end the project.
Stressing that Okinawa, with its landmass constituting less than one percent of Japan’s territory, is home to around 70 percent of all U.S. military facilities, Tamaki said that “the whole country should share this burden.”
As Okinawa will mark the 50th anniversary of its reversion to the Japanese sovereignty in 2022, Tamaki said he is committed to boosting economic development in his prefecture based on its diverse potential and culture, and by promoting its unique position to serve as a bridge connecting Japan with other regions across Asia.
“Currently the U.S. military presence is freezing the potential for economic growth,” he said.
Tamaki added he was planning to convey Okinawa’s plight to U.S. officials when visiting the United States sometime in the near future.