Okinawa Governor Halts Construction of U.S. Marine Corps Air Base
The U.S. Marine Corps’ plans to move its air base in Okinawa to a new location have been held up by the island’s governor, who has revoked the construction permit for the facility.
Governor Takeshi Onaga and most of his constituents want U.S. forces off the island entirely, not just moved around. Other residents want to see the foreign military presence to at least be reduced. U.S. armed forces have had a presence on the island since capturing it in 1945 in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. It was returned to Japanese control only in 1972.
Onaga said there were “legal flaws” in the permit, which was issued by his predecessor, according to The New York Times. The plan has been to move the air base, currently located in the middle of a heavily populated Okinawan city, to the quieter outskirts of the island at Henoka Bay.
Onaga’s action is being fought by Japan’s central government. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to complete the relocation, which had been planned since the 1990s. It is the Japanese Defense Ministry that has commissioned the construction work. Abe is seen as a military hawk who has increased cooperation with U.S. armed forces.
The Abe government said it will appeal the revocation, but doing so would likely come with a political cost to the prime minister, according to Shizuoka University professor Masakazu Aharen. Already, many of Abe’s national security actions have triggered widespread opposition. The matter is likely to end up in court, according to the Times, and could take years to resolve. It’s unclear whether construction will be allowed to proceed in the meantime.
Okinawans have been eager to get U.S. forces off their island. Two notorious rapes committed by U.S. personnel, one a gang-rape of a 12-year-old girl in 1995, have caused considerable antipathy toward Americans on the part of Okinawans.
There are about 25,000 members of the U.S. military stationed on Okinawa, which constitute more than half the total number of U.S. forces in Japan. Many Marines are already scheduled to be moved from the island to Guam, Hawaii or Australia in the coming decade. The Japanese government is even paying some of the relocation costs to facilitate the move.
To Learn More:
Okinawa Governor Freezes Work at U.S. Base (by Jonathan Soble, New York Times)
Hundreds in U.S. Military Guilty of Sex Crimes in Japan got Slap on Wrist (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Japanese Government Agrees to Spend $3 Billion to Boot U.S. Marines out of Okinawa (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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