In the gubernatorial race in Okinawa Prefecture, incumbent Denny Tamaki has been reelected by a wide margin, showing the public’s overwhelming opposition to the American military’s construction of a new base in Nago’s Henoko Bay. The central government must now listen to the will of its people and commit to a change of plans.
The central government has been obstinate in its plans for Marine Air Corps Station Futenma, currently located in Ginowan, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno stating “a relocation to Henoko is the only solution.” However, this is the fourth time voters have shown their disapproval of the project on a prefectural level, with gubernatorial elections in 2014 and 2018 and a referendum in 2019. Tokyo cannot turn away from the ideals of democracy, those based on the will of the people and entrusting them with the governance of their own land.
In a reversal of his ambiguous past position, Atsushi Sakima, former mayor of Ginowan and backed by the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito coalition, showed support during this election for Futenma’s relocation, meaning the central government can no longer claim the Henoko Bay project was never one of the main issues at hand.
The public’s opposition to the project, which would involve construction on soft seabed, boosted Tamaki to almost 340,000 votes. That, along with the approximately 50,000 votes brought in by former parliamentarian and detractor of the Henoko Bay project Mikio Shimoji, accounts for nearly 60% of the votes.
Fifty years after Okinawa’s return to Japan from American control, 70% of all American military bases in Japan are still concentrated there. Leaders in Tokyo must acknowledge how much of a burden the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is placing on Okinawa and do all they can to ease said burden on its people.
Regarding the construction, while the central government has produced the 11.7% of total soil that they needed by July of this year, last November prefectural authorities denied the Defense Ministry’s change of application for the relocation, which has now developed into a lawsuit between the Okinawan government and the central government, leaving construction in limbo.
Trying to force this relocation through will only breed further mistrust in the people of Okinawa. Does Tokyo really believe it can maintain a stable military presence without the locals’ understanding? With China’s military power strengthening and the risk of an invasion of Taiwan always looming, this relocation may actually weaken U.S.-Japan power in the region. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida must listen to the voices that Governor Tamaki represents and work out a new deal with the military that all sides can agree upon.