Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki called Friday for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to launch trilateral talks involving Washington aimed at reviewing the relocation plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, after a referendum confirmed strong opposition against it across the prefecture.
Abe did not directly respond to the request, made during a meeting with the governor in Tokyo, but said he intends to continue their talks, Tamaki told reporters after their discussions.
The request comes after a prefecture-wide nonbinding referendum held Sunday showed that more than 70 percent of voters rejected the more than 20-year-old plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded residential area of Ginowan to a less populated coastal zone in Henoko. The plan originated in an agreement reached by the Japanese and U.S. governments in 1996.
Tamaki visited Abe to formally report the outcome of the referendum, which asked whether Okinawa residents agreed with the landfill work being undertaken in Henoko as part of the base construction work.
The referendum ordinance requires the governor to report the outcome to the prime minister and U.S. President Donald Trump when any of three options — yes, no or neither — are approved by a quarter of eligible voters.
“It is extremely significant that the will of people (in Okinawa) urging (the government) to give up the transfer to Henoko was clearly shown for the first time” through the referendum, Tamaki said at the outset of his meeting with Abe. He requested that the prime minister “immediately” stop the construction work.
Central government has said it has no plan to stop the work, stating before the referendum that it would proceed with the project regardless of the outcome of the vote. Tokyo maintains the plan is the “only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base without undermining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. security alliance.
“While taking the outcome seriously, we would like to produce results step by step to reduce the burden” on Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan, Abe is reported to have said during the meeting.
The governor, who was elected last September on a platform of blocking the relocation plan, also paid a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo so that the outcome would be reported to Trump.
Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Young told Tamaki he will convey the result to U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty, according to the governor.
In the referendum, 71.7 percent of voters said they were opposed to the plan and some 19 percent said they favored it, with 8.7 percent saying neither.
Many Okinawa residents have long hoped the Futenma base would be moved out of the prefecture as they are frustrated with noise, crimes and accidents linked to the U.S. military presence.
Opponents of the relocation plan insist the replacement facility will destroy the marine ecosystem off the Henoko coast, which is home to an endangered species of dugong.