TOKYO: The combative governor of Okinawa vowed on Wednesday he would continue his fight to block the construction of a new US airbase on the southern Japanese island, as he readied to take his case to Washington.
Takeshi Onaga told reporters in Tokyo he was “confident” he could stop the development of a base at the rural coastal spot of Henoko, which would replace the existing Futenma military facility in built-up Ginowan.
Onaga, who led a 35,000-strong weekend protest against the US and Japanese governments’ plans, has emerged as a figurehead in an increasingly bitter dispute between Tokyo and its southernmost prefecture.
The central government takes Okinawans’ “sacrifices” for granted, Onaga said.
“The government took our land and tells us to shoulder the burden of US bases,” he said.
“We want them to halt the construction and hold discussions,” he added.
Okinawa, a formerly independent kingdom annexed by Japan in the 19th century, hosts more than half of the 47,000 US service personnel stationed in the country as part of a defense alliance, a proportion many islanders say is too high.
The plan to move Futenma, first mooted in 1996, has become the focus of anger among locals, who insist it should be shuttered and a replacement built elsewhere in Japan or overseas.
But both Tokyo and Washington have repeatedly backed the plan, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month insisting it was “the only solution.”
All sides agree that Futenma’s current site — in the middle of a crowded urban area where its aircraft are a nuisance to thousands of locals — is not appropriate, but the US will not close it until a replacement facility is ready.
The governor said US bases are “obstacles” to Okinawa’s economic development, and denied claims that his prefecture was financially dependent on the handouts and injections the American military presence brings.
Onaga is due to travel to the United States next week, on a trip that will include time in Washington, where he hopes to meet defense officials.