Okinawa Governor Lobbies Washington Politicians
Okinawa Governor, Takeshi Onaga, traveled to Washington on February 3 to lobby politicians to reconsider relocating the U.S. military base in his prefecture. He restated his opposition to the substantial presence of the U.S. military on his island, indirectly urging Japanese citizens back home to reconfigure the security arrangements between the two countries.
Newly appointed U.S. Defense Secretary, James Mattis, visited Tokyo on February 4 and agreed with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to proceed with the highly controversial plan to relocate a U.S. base within Okinawa Prefecture.
According to The Japan Times, Onaga told reporters in Washington that it was “regrettable” that Abe and Mattis agreed to advance the bilateral plan, which would move the Futenma U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture.
The Asahi Shimbun claims that in a joint news conference with Defense Minister Tomomi Inada on February 4, Mattis commented on the work in Henoko, stating that, “During my discussions here, we agreed that our mutual efforts to build the Futenma replacement facility will continue, and it is the only solution that will enable the United States to return the current Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma to Japan.”
The relocation plan, delayed for two decades, is a key part of a broader bilateral agreement to reorganize U.S. military forces in Japan.
During his time in Washington, The Japan News states that Onaga held talks with 12 Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as State Department officials involved in handling Japanese affairs.
While Onaga intended to make contact with the President’s close aides, he could not do so, only briefly meeting Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, at a coincidental breakfast in a Washington hotel. Furthermore, Asahi Shimbun, one of the State Department officials who met with Onaga, reiterated that the transfer of the military base to Henoko is the only solution.
Many Okinawans, according to RT News, believe that a Trump presidency would lead to a possible breakthrough with the removal of U.S. bases. As opposed to Barack Obama’s affinity for U.S. military bases around the world, Trump stated that he would charge foreign nations to pay for U.S. military protection and would remove these bases if no such payments came.
RT News states that activists opposing the U.S. military presence on the island have protested for as long as the bases have existed, insisting that the land be returned to the people. Okinawa hosts 74 percent of Japan’s total U.S. military presence despite occupying only 6 percent of the whole of Japan.