NEW YORK - Newly elected Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki said Sunday that the Japanese government’s plan to replace a key U.S. military base within the prefecture is opposed to the will of local residents.
In a speech at New York University, he said he was elected as governor in September on a platform of blocking the plan but that the Japanese government “is forcing the relocation” against the will of people in Okinawa.
Tamaki is in New York on his first tour of the United States since becoming governor. He is scheduled to meet government officials and lawmakers in his campaign against the transfer of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa, where the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan are located.
In the speech, he also called for action by U.S. citizens to join efforts to ease the burden of the prefecture in hosting U.S. military bases.
“I would like U.S. citizens, as well as Japanese citizens (outside Okinawa) to think about solutions and act together with us,” the governor said before an audience of more than 100 people.
Tamaki has been urging the central government to move Futenma base operations outside Okinawa. Tokyo and Washington have agreed to move the base’s operations to the coastal area of Henoko in Nago from the densely populated residential area in Ginowan.
His U.S. tour comes amid growing tensions between Okinawa and the Japanese central government following a decision late last month by the land minister to override Okinawa’s withdrawal of approval for landfill work to construction of the replacement facility off Nago.
The central government resumed the work earlier this month based on the minister’s decision, which cited concerns that Okinawa’s revocation of approval would hurt the Japan-U.S. relationship.
Okinawa is considering requesting a review of the minister’s decision by a third-party panel for resolving conflicts between the national and local governments, while also preparing to hold a prefectural referendum next year on the relocation plan.
“There is quite strong interest in the prefectural referendum among people in Okinawa,” Tamaki said, adding that the results will have a significant impact on the fate of the base transfer.