In February 2019, the people of Okinawa, Japan overwhelmingly voted “No” during a referendum on whether to relocate a US military base to Okinawa’s Henoko coastal district. Seventy percent of voters, 434,000 people, opposed construction of a new base on Okinawa’s northeast coast. The prime minister, Shinzō Abe, thus far has ignored the referendum, which is not legally binding, choosing instead to pursue relocation of the controversial base, from Futenma to Henoko.
Opposition to US military bases in Japan has a long history. Due to the results of the most recent referendum, Okinawa’s governor, Denny Tamaki, is under pressure to fulfil his people’s wishes. Governor Tamaki has demanded a meeting with Prime Minister Abe. “I want to create an environment for dialogue, rather than continuing legal battles,” the governor told reporters after a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo, according to the Japan Times.
The Okinawan people want the base located elsewhere, in part due to concerns that it will impact the district’s fishing industry, and the marine ecosystem that supports it. In contrast, the Japanese government has argued that relocation to Henoko will ease the burden of those living in Futenma, where residents have complained of noise and crime committed by military personnel, and the danger of military aircraft accidents close to homes and schools.
This story has received fairly substantial coverage in US news. CNN covered aspects of the controversy in June 2018 and February 2019, as did the Washington Post. As the New York Times reported in September 2018, Okinawa’s governor, Denny Tamaki, is the son of a US Marine and was elected on the promise that he would oppose construction of the new military base.
Justin McCurry, “Okinawa Rejects New US Military Base But Abe Vows to Push On,” The Guardian, February 24, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/24/okinawa-referendum-rejects-new-us-military-base-but-abe-likely-to-press-on.
“Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki Requests Month of Talks with Abe in Bid to Halt U.S. Base Transfer,” Japan Times, March 19, 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/03/19/national/okinawa-gov-denny-tamaki-requests-month-talks-abe-bid-halt-u-s-base-transfer/#.XJ0wmutKjBI.
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