The attitude of the people in Okinawa toward the US bases on the Japanese island could not be clearer, after incumbent Governor Denny Tamaki convincingly secured reelection on Sunday.
Tamaki, whose election campaign was largely based on his opposition to the government's plan to relocate the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to another part of Okinawa, secured more than half the votes in Sunday's election.
"It is an undeniable fact that I was elected by the people who oppose the relocation plan, meaning the Okinawans' true feelings have not changed," Tamaki told local media a day after securing his second four-year term as governor of Okinawa. He also said that he will convey Okinawans' will to the central government.
Although it accounts for only 0.6 percent of the Japanese landmass, Okinawa hosts the majority of the US forces in Japan. There is a saying that "Okinawa is an island that exists within a US military base" as more than 70 percent of the US military facilities in Japan are located on the island.
For decades, Okinawa residents have suffered and resented the heavy US presence, complaining of problems such as the noise of low-flying aircraft, pollution, accidents and crimes committed by US military personnel. The plan to relocate the Futenma air base was drawn up after three US servicemen were convicted of the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan schoolgirl in 1995, which triggered a wave of local anger and opposition to the US bases.
Due to local people's resistance to the plan, as well as environmental concerns, the relocation plan has been delayed for years. But while Okinawans want the base closed and their overall US base-hosting burdens lifted, Japan's central government continues to turn a deaf ear to their appeals. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reportedly plans to accelerate the contentious plan.
Okinawa saw one of the bloodiest battles in World War II, during which as many as 100,000-150,000 Okinawan people lost their lives in about three months of fighting. Which to some extent explains why Okinawans want to escape the shadow of war cast by the US bases. That's why Tamaki's reelection is also being viewed as being a pushback against the militarization push by Kishida's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Kishida's government is shifting Japan's defense posture to southwestern Japan including Okinawa and its surrounding islands, which has only served to exacerbate the anxieties of local residents, as the growing deployment of missile systems and amphibious capabilities on Japan's outer islands, including Okinawa, has convinced them that the island will be first in the firing line in the event of any military conflict in the future.