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Asia Minute: Okinawa Election May Complicate U.S. Military Plans

Sonata(talk / Contributions)
Wikimedia Commons

An election in Japan may have an impact on U.S. military planning in the Asia Pacific. The election was in Okinawa, and the potential effects may stretch all the way to Hawaii.

Japan’s central government is sorting through the impact of this weekend’s election for the governor of Okinawa Prefecture. The candidate favored by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lost.

The winner, Denny Tamaki, wants a much smaller U.S. military presence on the island.

His father was a U.S. Marine, his mother a Japanese national who was working near a military base as a waitress. His father left Japan before Tamaki was born, and the governor-elect has never met him.

U.S. military forces have dominated the island for decades — Okinawa wasn’t even returned to Japanese control after the war until 1972. The largest U.S. Air Force base in the Asia Pacific is on the island – along with about half of all U.S. military forces in Japan.

Credit OIST / Flickr
Denny Tamaki in 2009

For about twenty years there have been plans to relocate the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a more sparsely populated part of the island, but the governor-elect says that’s not enough. He wants U.S. forces to be more spread out in Japan, and some of the Marines moved to other bases in the Asia Pacific – from Australia and Guam to Hawaii.

But that’s not what the central government wants, and it’s not clear how much influence the governor will be able to exert.

While the new governor elect may not be able to entirely block the military plans, he may be able to complicate them with further delays.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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