News / Asia

US Okinawa Base Relocation Hits a Snag

Nago City Mayor Susumu Inamine (C), flanked by his wife Ritsuko, celebrates after he was re-elected in the mayoral election in Nago, on the Japanese southern island of Okinawa, Jan. 19, 2014.
Nago City Mayor Susumu Inamine (C), flanked by his wife Ritsuko, celebrates after he was re-elected in the mayoral election in Nago, on the Japanese southern island of Okinawa, Jan. 19, 2014.
Daniel Schearf
The controversial planned relocation of a U.S. military base on the Japanese island Okinawa may have hit a snag with the re-election of a mayor opposed to it in his city.  Political analysts say local politicians and activists could affect the plan and put a dent in Japan-U.S. relations. 
Nago mayor Susumu Inamine said his re-election, in the northern Okinawa city, is a clear sign from voters on one issue - saying no to a U.S. military base that was to be relocated to Nago from its current location in Futenma in south Okinawa.
Map of Okinawa, JapanMap of Okinawa, Japan
Map of Okinawa, Japan
Map of Okinawa, Japan
In his victory speech Sunday night, Mayor Inamine not only rejected a plan for his city to host a relocated base but also vowed to shut down the current base in Futenma.
He said the local residents, the people of this prefecture, are so much against this plan, so they must start with a clean slate and return to the discussion of moving the base off the prefecture, or away from this country.  He said their basic principle on Futenma is to immediately close down the base.  
The U.S. and Japan have for years struggled to negotiate a new location for the Marine Corps Air Station in Futenma, south Okinawa.   In densely populated Ginowan City, the base has long raised concerns about overburdening locals with the large military presence.
Washington hailed a breakthrough in December when Okinawa's Governor granted permission for a landfill for part of the base in Nago's Henoko Bay.
The agreement came just days after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered the governor $300 million a year in economic aid for eight years.  Base opponents criticized that as a pay-off for a governor who had initially opposed the relocation.
Many Okinawa locals have concerns over noise as well as increased crime that usually comes with bases. Environmentalists worry construction and base activities in Nago's port could affect the habitat of the endangered Du-gong, a relative of the manatee or sea cow.  
Tetsuo Kotani is a research fellow at Japan's Institute of International Affairs who said the fate of the base relocation remains unclear following the mayor’s re-election. “It's very difficult to tell.  We are still not sure how much authority he has to stop the base relocation.  And, even if he has certain authority, the government can still overrule his authority by passing a law,” Kotani stated.
Regardless, the vocal opposition to the base is putting Washington in a tough spot.  Jeff Kingston is director of Asian Studies at Japan's Temple University.   “The real quandary in Washington is whether it makes sense to proceed in this relocation given the prospects of strong local resistance and whether or not respecting the democratic voice of the people of Nago actually will hurt American interests in Japan,” he noted.
The U.S. and Japan have for decades sought a solution to Okinawa's disproportionate burden of hosting U.S. troops.  
Okinawa has only 1 percent of Japan's land but hosts most of the 86,000 U.S. military personnel (38,000), dependents (43,000), and civilian employees (5,000).
The U.S. plans to move 9,000 U.S. troops out of Okinawa in the next decade to the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam.  But, thousands more would remain as part of a U.S. security commitment to Japan.
Kotani said the U.S. military presence in Okinawa is critical and supported by most Japanese.  “Especially when the rise of China is posing difficult challenges and opportunities we need a stronger US presence on Okinawa to discourage any Chinese aggressive movement,” Kotani explained.
If the Futenma relocation to Nago falls through, there are few options.
Kingston said if the base remains in Ginowan City it would be a political “ticking time bomb”. “So, the only alternative that has been proposed that a lot of people believe makes sense is integrating the marine air base into the large U.S. air force base at Kadena," he said. "And, three U.S. Senators-McCain, Levin, and Webb, have all recommended that option.  But, that has not gone down well with the Pentagon or Air Force.”
The U.S. military has said relocating to Kadena Air Base, just seven miles away, would only serve to kick the burden of Futenma down the road.

You May Like

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.