Okinawa blocks construction of new US naval base

That “Pacific Pivot” in US foreign policy just seems to be running into one snag after another. The latest wrinkle comes to us from the Japanese province of Okinawa, home to one of the United States’ oldest and best established naval bases in the theater. The base is aging and in need of a new, modernized home. There is a plan in place to do just that, with construction set to begin on a new facility to be located on the remote island of Henoko in the northern regions of the Okinawa. But the governor of the province has just put the brakes on the plan. (WaPo)

The battle over the relocation of a United States Marine Corps base on the Japanese island of Okinawa escalated Tuesday when Okinawa’s governor revoked a permit for the new construction site.

The central government in Tokyo vowed to fight the governor’s decision, but Tuesday’s action marked the latest in a series of complications that has bedeviled the U.S. military’s efforts to build a new base on Okinawa.

“To fulfill my pledge not to let any more bases to be built, I will continue to tackle this issue to the best of my ability,” said Takeshi Onaga, the governor of Okinawa, a series of islands 200 miles south of the Japanese mainland.

Onaga ran for office on what appeared to be a substantially anti-America platform, though he’s not quite so overt in his statements on the subject. He’s claiming that there were “flaws in the legal process” of issuing the construction permit, but it sounds like there’s a lot more to it below the surface. The base has been the center of controversy for years and many of the locals have staged protests from time to time. The governor’s position, however, wasn’t framed so much in kicking the Americans out of Japan entirely, but in asking for the rest of the country to share the burden.

Many Okinawans are fed up with bearing the overwhelming burden of Japan’s military alliance with the U.S., saying that they comprise less than one percent of the country’s land mass but house 75 percent of the American military bases in Japan.

One of the more memorable incidents involved the 2004 crash of a US Helicopter on the campus of Okinawa International University. But any reasonable analysis would predict that you’re eventually going to have the odd aviation disaster when there’s an active military base in the area. Residents seem to be far more upset over the impact of having US sailors running about in their community and causing trouble. There have been repeated accusations of our sailors committing rape, including a 2013 case where two Americans were sentenced to roughly a decade in jail for allegedly robbing and sexually assaulting a twenty year old Japanese woman near the base.

Governor Onaga is likely playing on the anger felt by some of the natives toward their American guests and showing his supporters that he’s striking a blow against their presence there. From the sound of it, though, Tokyo isn’t buying the argument and will move ahead with the base relocation anyway. Still, it’s one more problem we didn’t need in that part of the world, particularly with a nation which was supposed to be one of our more stable and staunch allies. I’m not hearing many Americans calling for us to just pull out of Japan, but if we did, where would we go?

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