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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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
x
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid