Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki on Friday said he would meet with US officials next week to convey the frustration of residents over hosting US military bases on the Japanese island.
Tamaki said he would meet with officials in Washington and speak at New York University during his trip from today to Friday.
“I hope to speak directly to American citizens and convey my views representing Okinawa and have a discussion about democracy,” Tamaki told a news conference in Tokyo.
Photo: Kyodo News / AP
Tamaki took office on Oct. 4 after campaigning for the closure of a disputed US base on Okinawa and a reduction in the US military presence there.
He said he wanted to visit the US soon after his election so that the voices of voters would be heard.
Tamaki, the first person with an American parent to lead Okinawa, said his roots make him a perfect figure to relay the message to the US public.
At the center of contention is a decades-old plan to move a US Marine Corps air station from densely populated Futenma in the southern part of the island to less-crowded Henoko on the east coast.
Many Okinawans say the presence of so many US troops on the island is burdensome and they want the Futenma base moved off the island entirely.
Tamaki, during an earlier visit to Tokyo in the middle of last month, urged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other top officials to stop the Henoko plan and reduce Okinawa’s burden.
Despite his request and Okinawans’ opposition, Abe’s government last week resumed construction work at the disputed site at Henoko.
Tamaki said he is determined to block its completion.
“Okinawa is working hard toward peace building and based on that perspective we call on the Japanese government and the United States government to look at ways to reduce the burden of the bases and build peace. We call for deepening of their relationship and effort to achieve those goals,” Tamaki said.
He said that Japan’s central government should negotiate with the US in Okinawa’s interest.
“As the central government is not delivering Okinawans’ voice to the US side, it is now my responsibility to convey that directly to the Americans and they have a responsibility to listen to us,” Tamaki said.
He has said he supports the Japan-US security alliance, but that Okinawa should not be the only place forced to sacrifice.
Tamaki has also called for a review of the Status of Forces Agreement that gives privileges to the US military, including some immunity from Japanese criminal investigation.
The relocation of the Futenma air station was planned after the 1995 rape of a schoolgirl in which three US servicemen were convicted.
About one-half of the 50,000 US troops based in Japan under the security pact and most of their key facilities are on Okinawa.
Tamaki, the son of a US serviceman whom he has never seen, said being bullied as a child because of his lighter skin color gave him respect for diversity and his identity.
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