Residents of Okinawa, Japan, recently voted overwhelmingly against plans to expand an existing U.S. military base on the island. Nearly half of all registered voters turned out for the balloting on Sunday, and nearly 75% of those voters stated they were opposed to building additional runways for U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) aircraft at Camp Schwab near the town of Henoko, according to a report from Stars and Stripes. The new runways and facilities would accommodate USMC forces currently based in Futenma, as the military wants to close that facility.
Okinawa’s governor, Denny Tamaki, has been publicly against the expansion and made it part of his campaign platform during the most recent gubernatorial election. Locals cited “crime, pollution and accidents” as reasons why they don’t want a larger U.S. presence in the area, according to a report from Reuters. The island of Okinawa is home to the majority of the United States’ military presence in the country, and many Okinawans want the U.S. to leave the island entirely.
Despite the vote, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the expansion will continue as planned. Both the Japanese and U.S. governments have wanted to make the move for at least two decades, claiming it makes logistical and strategic sense.
“We cannot avoid the necessity of moving Futenma, said to be the most dangerous base in the world,” said Abe while addressing reporters. The prime minister also stated that his administration has been “holding dialogue with people in Okinawa for a long time and intends to keep doing so to seek their understanding,” but ultimately the move “cannot be postponed any further.”
Governor Tamaki was quick to offer a retort, claiming that Abe is obligated to respect the results of the election.
“I urge the government to change their view that relocating the base to Henoko is the only way and to halt construction, along with more dialogue with us on closing Futenma and returning the land to us,” said Tamaki.
Currently, Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma is home to both Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 36 and Marine Air Control Group 18. MAG 36 operates the V-22 Osprey, a tiltrotor aircraft used by the military for ferrying supplies and personnel. The current USMC presence, along with the rest of the U.S. military units deployed to Okinawa, are vital to Japan’s defensive posture, and allow the United States to project force into the Pacific and Indian oceans.