The Japan Times

Okinawa urges dropping U.S. base transfer plan

- KYODO, JIJI

Okinawa Prefecture has called on the central government to scrap a plan to relocate a U.S. air base within the prefecture in its new proposals for creating a “peaceful and prosperous” future, which was released Saturday ahead of this month’s 50th anniversar­y of the island’s reversion to Japan.

The proposals also request a drastic review of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, as Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military installati­ons in the country and after a spate of crimes and accidents involving U.S. soldiers and base personnel that have angered residents. They view the agreement as overly protective of U.S. service members and civilian base workers if they are implicated in unlawful acts.

The central government plans to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the crowded residentia­l area of Ginowan to the less populated coastal zone of Henoko, both in Okinawa, as agreed upon with the United States in 1996.

Japan’s security policy relies “too heavily” on Okinawa, Gov. Denny Tamaki said at a news conference on the proposals for “realizing a peaceful and prosperous Okinawa” prior to the May 15 anniversar­y.

The new documents say the prefecture hosts 70.3% of the land occupied by U.S. military bases in Japan, up from 58.8% in 1972 when it was returned to Japan from U.S. control, and that the burden of hosting so many U.S. military facilities should be reduced.

As the proposals of 1971 called for creating a peaceful island without military bases, “I want to abide by the principle that residents hoped for 50 years ago,” Tamaki said.

In 1971, a year before Okinawa’s return to Japan after post-World War II occupation by U.S. forces, the now-defunct Ryukyu government came up with a proposal calling for the permanent removal of U.S. military bases and nuclear arms from Okinawa.

Just before a senior Ryukyu government official arrived in Tokyo to submit the proposal, a U.S.-Japan agreement on Okinawa’s reversion was railroaded through parliament, fueling the prefecture’s distrust toward the Japanese government.

In the prefecture’s first referendum conducted in 2019 on the plan to move the Futenma base, more than 70% of voters rejected the plan.

But the Japanese government maintains its view that the relocation is “the only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base without underminin­g the deterrence provided by the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

Given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s military buildup amid growing tensions over Taiwan, Okinawa should never become a target just because military bases are concentrat­ed in the prefecture, about 600 kilometers west of Taiwan’s capital Taipei, the prefectura­l government said in the new proposals.

Tamaki said he is seeking to present the documents to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the chiefs of both houses of parliament and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel as early as Tuesday.

 ?? KYODO ?? U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, in February
KYODO U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, in February

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