TOKYO (majirox news) — The long-standing debate over the US forces stationed in the island prefecture of Okinawa took a new turn. Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba recently announced that the plan proposed by the US in February would not be implemented. As part of a revised strategy to redeploy US forces in Japan, the proposal would have moved units of the US Marine Corps from Okinawa to Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi prefecture.
Now the question is where the 1,500 Marines will end up. Following the rejection of the plan to move them to the city of Iwakuni on the mainland, the Japanese Mainichi newspaper reports that the US government is now pushing for them to remain in Okinawa.
“Of course, there is an ongoing review of the realignment plan, and as I mentioned, there is going to be a new plan or idea regarding implementation of relocation from Okinawa to other places,” said Noriyuki Shikata, Deputy Cabinet Secretary at Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Office
Many of the residents of Okinawa would like to see the US military presence in the prefecture reduced, or even eliminated, and they complain that the Japanese national government ignores their concerns.
“We do pay due attention to the sentiments and the feelings of the people of Okinawa, and that’s something we are doing in the context of relocation from Okinawa and also the return of US bases or facilities in the south of Kadena,” Shikata said.
Many residents of Okinawa have complaints about the US bases on their island.
Jun Chisaka, secretary general of the Peace Committee for Okinawa, said, “The reason the people of Okinawa are against the American bases is because they’ve suffered through 67 post-war years of crimes and damages, including the environment, that the bases have visited upon them. There is a continued state of occupation on the island.”
He also says the islanders were not surprised that Iwankuni City did not accept the Marines.
“I think the people of Okinawa don’t want to solve their problem by forcing their suffering on people from other places, like Guam or Iwankuni,” Chisaka says. “I don’t that’s something they want in their hearts.”
But in Tokyo, far from the US bases, there are differing points of view.
A woman in her late 20s said, “I think Japan needs America to protect it. And I also think the United States needs Japan in some way, too. So I think we have to find a way to support each other. I want both sides to reach an agreement.”
A businessman in Tokyo said, “Without knowing the full story of what’s going on behind close doors, it’s hard to judge, but I think that it will be pretty hard for America and Japan to reach an agreement.”
Officials and politicians in both countries have debated this topic for many years now without coming to any conclusion. This latest development also coincides with plans by Japan and the United States to move several thousand Marines and their dependents out of Okinawa to Guam. These issues are likely to be high on the agenda when Japanese Prime Minister Noda visits Washington in spring for talks with US President Obama.