Naha – People in Okinawa have expressed little hope that Joe Biden, who became the U.S. president-elect Saturday, will review a controversial Japan-U.S. plan to relocate a key military base within the southernmost island prefecture.
"Whoever becomes president, Okinawa's problems, including the issue of moving (the base) to Henoko, will remain unresolved unless the Japanese government acts as the main actor," said Hiroshi Ashitomi, 74, a representative of a local anti-U.S. base group.
Most Okinawa residents oppose the planned transfer of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in the center of the city of Ginowan, to the less populated coastal area of Henoko in Nago.
Over 70% of Okinawa residents voted to oppose the relocation to Henoko in a 2019 referendum.
However, the Japanese government maintains that the planned transfer is the only solution for removing the dangers posed by the base without undermining the deterrence of the alliance with the United States in the face of the rise of China and the nuclear threat by North Korea.
Washington held the line on the transfer plan under the presidencies of Barack Obama, in which Biden served as vice president, and of incumbent Donald Trump.
Locals' frustration with the Futenma issue stems from the fact that Okinawa hosts about 70% of American military facilities in Japan despite the prefecture representing only 0.6% of the country's land.
Meanwhile, some Okinawans have expressed hope that a Biden administration may ease U.S.-China tensions, which have increased over the last four years.
With the bulk of U.S. military facilities concentrated in their prefecture, Okinawa residents worry that they could be a target for missiles in a possible military confrontation between Washington and Beijing.
"There was fear that should the Trump administration continue, it could bring about unpredictable circumstances," said Hiroji Yamashiro, 68, chairman of a local group opposing the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.
Yamashiro said Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government should cooperate with Biden's administration in achieving peace and stability in the region so U.S. military bases will no longer be necessary in Okinawa.
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