Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga expressed hope Thursday that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump will adopt a new policy toward U.S. military bases in Japan’s southernmost prefecture.
Referring to drastic changes Trump has made since taking office on Jan. 20, Onaga said in a speech in Washington he hopes the new president will take U.S. policy on bases, including the controversial relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, in “a better direction.”
The bilateral policy concerning Okinawa has remained constant under previous Japanese and U.S. governments, leaving the island prefecture “full of bases,” Onaga told the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at George Washington University.
“I don’t think it will get any worse than today,” he said.
“In that sense, I am forecasting some changes with President Trump.
“I hope he will lead us into a different direction.”
Onaga said he held talks with Republican and Democratic members of Congress about local opposition to the Japan-U.S. plan to move Futenma from a crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.
“It’s not ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ We don’t want (a new U.S. base) anymore,” the governor said, citing the fact Okinawa accounts for a mere 0.6 percent of the land of Japan but is home to more than 70 percent of all U.S. military facilities in the country.
Onaga said he briefly met and spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when they happened to be at the same breakfast meeting Thursday at a Washington hotel.
They did not discuss the Futenma issue, however.
Onaga has demanded the Futenma base be relocated outside Okinawa. During the five-day visit to Washington through Saturday, he aims to tell the Trump administration that many residents of Okinawa are opposed to the relocation plan as they want to reduce the burden on the prefecture from hosting the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.
The relocation is a key part of a broader bilateral agreement to reorganize the U.S. military presence in Japan.
The Japanese government maintains that relocating Futenma to Henoko is the “only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the air station without undermining the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance amid regional tensions fueled by China’s assertive territorial claims at sea and North Korea’s weapons program.
In 2004, a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crashed at Okinawa International University, which is adjacent to the base.