TOKYO: Campaigning began Thursday ahead of a referendum in Japan’s Okinawa on the controversial relocation of a US military base to a remote part of the island, reports AFP.
The non-binding vote will be held on February 24, with Governor Denny Tamaki campaigning against the relocation of the Futenma airbase.The base is currently located in a densely-populated part of the southern island, and has caused frictions with local residents over everything from noise to accidents.In a bid to resolve the long-running tensions, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has backed a plan to move the base to a coastal area, reclaiming land for part of the proposed new site.
But residents opposed to the move want the base moved out of Okinawa altogether, arguing that the region bears a disproportionate burden when it comes to hosting US military troops in the country.
Okinawa accounts for less than one percent of Japan’s total land area, but hosts more than half of the approximately 47,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan.
Noise, accidents, and crimes committed by military personnel and civilian base employees have long angered Okinawans, many of whom want other parts of the country to house bases instead.
But the archipelago’s location near Taiwan has long been viewed as having huge strategic importance for US forward positioning in Asia.
And Abe’s government has shown little sign of willingness to consider relocating Futenma to another part of the country or otherwise changing the spread of US military forces in Japan.Tamaki, elected in September after campaigning against the relocation plans, has urged residents to vote.