National / Politics

New Okinawa Gov. Tamaki to raise military base issue during visit to U.S.

AFP-JIJI

The newly elected governor of Okinawa Prefecture said Friday he will take the island’s long-running concerns about U.S. military bases there directly to Americans when he visits the country next week.

Denny Tamaki, born to a Japanese mother and a U.S. Marine father, said he wants to see Tokyo and Washington spread the burden of hosting U.S. troops more evenly across Japan.

“I am not asking for an immediate shutdown and withdrawal of U.S. bases,” he told a press conference in Tokyo.

“The reality that the Okinawan people face is that we don’t know to whom we should voice our frustration,” Tamaki said.

He will go to Washington and New York to meet with local politicians and journalists, and said he is hopeful his mixed background will help persuade Americans to recognize the views of Okinawans.

“After the (U.S.) midterm elections, I — as a person who has roots to both Japan and the U.S. — am going there. I hope it will have a media impact,” he added.

Okinawa accounts for less than 1 percent of Japan’s total land area, but hosts more than half of the approximately 47,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan.

For decades, Okinawa residents have asked for some of the bases to be moved, with resentment growing after a string of accidents and crimes committed by U.S. military personnel and base workers.

But the location of Okinawa is of huge strategic importance for U.S. forward positioning in Asia.

As a solution, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has pushed a plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a new location in Henoko, further north on the island. Part of the land for the new base will be obtained through reclamation work.

But that has angered many Okinawans who want the base moved off the island altogether.

While Tokyo is moving ahead with plans to build the new facility, Tamaki has vowed to stand in its way.

“The central government has been trying to build (the new facility) for 20 years now. It is not being built. The opposition of local residents is clear,” he said.

Last month, Okinawa lawmakers voted to hold a nonbinding referendum on the relocation plan.

While it has no legal standing, a vote against the move is likely to pile fresh pressure on the government over the issue.