NEW YORK - A petition to Washington that calls for a temporary halt to reclamation work for the construction of a U.S. base off Okinawa hit the signature threshold on Tuesday to warrant a response from the White House.
Robert Kajiwara, a 32-year-old Japanese-American from Hawaii, started the online petition on Dec. 8 through the White House’s We the People website and garnered more than 100,000 signatures within 10 days, well within the 30 days necessary for a reply.
Full-fledged reclamation work off the Henoko coastal district of Nago started on Friday despite stiff local opposition. The work is being carried out for the planned transfer of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, based on a bilateral agreement in 1996.
Addressing U.S. President Donald Trump, the petition asks the work to be stopped until Feb. 24 when the southern island will hold a prefectural referendum on the base transfer plan.
“Please STOP the landfill work in Okinawa until a democratic referendum can be held,” it asks.
The petition also references the election this September of Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki who ran on a platform to end the transfer of the Futenma base within Okinawa. His predecessor, Takeshi Onaga, died of cancer in the midst of his fight to oppose the plan.
“The Japanese government and U.S. military have so far IGNORED the democratic will of Gov. Tamaki & the Okinawan people,” the petition says.
Requesting a halt to the construction work “to ensure that democracy prevails,” the petition says, “Please show Okinawans that America is indeed an honorable and GREAT nation.”
The petition also mentions that continuing the work will “forever strain U.S.-Okinawa relations.”
Having hosted the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan for decades, many people in Okinawa are frustrated with noise, crime and accidents linked to the military and do not want to see any new bases built in the prefecture.
The White House is supposed to respond within 60 days to any petition that gathers 100,000 signatures within 30 days of its starting date.
Petitioners can be of any nationality but must be over 13 years of age. Japan-based celebrities such as model and actress Rola and pop star Ryuchell, who hails from Okinawa, have raised awareness about the petition via their social media accounts.
On her Instagram account, which has some 5.2 million followers, Rola said that the reclamation of Okinawa’s beautiful sea can be stopped if people join hands, calling for their messages to be delivered to the White House.