Susumu Inamine, the mayor of Nago on Okinawa Island has traveled to Washington to call on US officials to drop plans to move an American military base to ecologically sensitive land in the Japanese city.
The controversy surrounds long-term plans to move the US Marine Air Station at Futenma, which is situated in a densely populated urban area in southern Okinawa, to Nago, a smaller city to the north that already hosts Camp Schwab, another US Marine base.
A poll published by regional broadcaster Ryukyu Asahi on December 3 found that three-quarters of the 1,076 respondents said Futenma, now located in the city of Ginowan, should be moved outside the prefecture or outside the country. About 72 percent said the governor should not approve the land reclamation project to build the new base. The survey was carried out between November 28 and December 2 and gave no margin of error.
In December, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima formally agreed to the base relocation in return for promises of a massive cash injection from Tokyo. But it seems they underestimated the fortitude of Mayor Inamine, 68, who traveled to Washington last week to meet with leading US officials in an effort to thwart the proposal.
“Why should only Okinawa hold the burden for security of all of Japan, when the presence of US Marines doesn’t play a big role in deterring China?” Inamine, told a press conference in Washington. “I, as mayor, have operational control over two ports that are needed for use as construction landfill and I will exercise all powers in the municipality to block access.”
The city of Nago, he said, has the power to slow down or block construction of the base by deciding which roads or ports can be used, and by exercising its authority to approve or deny certain permits. “What I really wanted to express here was if they unilaterally push forward this plan against the local people, it will not work well,” he said through an interpreter.
The American military presence on Okinawa remains among the most contentious issues in relations between the US and Japan. Over the years, US officials have apologized for crimes committed by servicemen and faced anger over noise, pollution and accidents tied to the bases.
Outrage over the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen led to an agreement the following year to try to reduce the burden on the island by shifting Marine Corps Air Station Futenma out of the city to a site to be built partly on reclaimed land in the more rural Henoko region. The plan was re- endorsed a decade later.