Okinawa re-elects governor who opposes US troop presence | Government and politics

TOKYO (AP) — The outgoing governor of Okinawa, who opposes the ongoing relocation of the U.S. Navy base forced by Japan’s central government and calls for a further reduction of U.S. troops on the South Island, won re-election on Sunday despite fears of escalating tensions between China and neighboring Taiwan.

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki, who is backed by opposition parties, was certain to win his second four-year term, according to exit polls from major Japanese media, including national television NHK and the agency release Kyodo. Polls took place on Sunday before his first four-year term ends later this month.

Tamaki and his supporters declared victory and celebrated with chants of “banzai” shortly after poll results showed he had beaten two contenders – Atsushi Sakima, backed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s ruling bloc , and another opposition-backed candidate Mikio Shimoji. The final tally of votes is expected later Sunday.

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Tamaki’s victory could escalate tensions between Okinawa and the central government.

The plan to move the US Marine Corps Futenma airbase from a crowded area to a less populated area of ​​the island has already been delayed for years. Okinawans call it new construction rather than a move and want the Futenma base closed and removed from the island.

“My commitment to solving the US military base issue for Okinawa’s future has never wavered,” Tamaki said. He said he would continue his efforts to convey Okinawa’s will to the central government.

During the campaign, Tamaki also promised to do more to improve Okinawa’s economy. Tourism on the semi-tropical island known for its corals, marine life and unique culture has been badly hit by the pandemic.

Resentment and frustration run deep in Okinawa over the heavy US presence and Tokyo’s lack of effort to negotiate with Washington on how to balance the burden of hosting US troops between mainland Japan and the group. of southern islands.

Okinawa, where one of the bloodiest battles of World War II took place, was under American occupation until it returned to Japanese control in 1972. Today, the majority of the 50,000 American soldiers based in Japan under a bilateral security pact and 70% of American military installations are still in Okinawa, which is only 0.6% of Japanese territory.

Due to US bases, Okinawa has struggled with noise, pollution, accidents and crime from US troops, Tamaki said.

The Japanese government has in recent years shifted the country’s defense posture to southwestern Japan, Okinawa and its outer islands and is working to significantly boost Japan’s military capability and budget over the next five to 10 years. , citing growing threats from China, North Korea and Russia.

Many in Okinawa worry about the increasing deployment of Japanese missile defenses and amphibious capabilities on outlying islands near geopolitical hotspots like Taiwan, the self-governing island that China claims as its own and has threatened to use force to destroy it. append if necessary. Okinawans fear they will be the first to be drawn into a dispute over Taiwan.

The plan to relocate the Futenma base was drawn up after the 1995 rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl, in which three US servicemen were convicted. The case reignited local opposition to US bases. The relocation has been delayed for years due to resistance from Okinawa as well as environmental and structural issues in the Henoko area, where the new base is supposed to be located.

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