Japanese opposition party leader wants U.S. Marines off Okinawa
By DAVID ALLEN AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 5, 2003
NAHA, Okinawa — The leader of Japan’s major opposition party toured Okinawa over the weekend, stumping for House of Representatives candidates opposed to U.S. military bases.
Naoto Kan, head of the Democratic Party of Japan, said his party will push for removing Marine Corps bases from Okinawa if it wins control of the government in Sunday’s election.
“Security in the Far East can be maintained without U.S. bases in Okinawa and the Marines stationed there,” Kan said Saturday during a press conference here. “We are eyeing having them moved out of Japan.”
Okinawa hosts more than half of all U.S. troops stationed in Japan; 20 percent of the island is covered by U.S. bases.
That’s approximately 75 percent of the land used exclusively for U.S. bases in Japan.
If his party wins a majority, Kan said, he would appoint a special minister “to deal with Okinawa matters in a comprehensive manner.”
Now, the Foreign Ministry and Defense Facilities Administration Agency handle issues concerning U.S. bases. The cabinet includes a special minister for Okinawa affairs, but that post is limited to economic development issues.
Kan said if his party prevails, a new cabinet appointee would be charged with handling U.S. military and regional development issues.
His comments drew a rebuff from at least one Liberal Democratic Party leader.
“Does he really think the Japan-U.S. alliance can be maintained by doing that?” asked party Secretary General Shinzo Abe during a campaign trip Sunday in Chiba Prefecture, the Daily Yomiuri newspaper reported.
Abe said the U.S. is obligated to protect Japan in case of an attack. “When a missile is launched, aiming at Japan from North Korea, U.S. military aircraft [will] attack the missile base and American young people will be risking their lives to protect Japan,” he said, according to newspaper reports.
Other Liberal party leaders have said the bilateral security treaty serves as deterrence, keeping Japan from being attacked and maintaining peace in the region. They say the U.S. military presence on Okinawa is a strategic key to that success, according to the Yomiuri report, which adds that the presence also serves to limit calls from those who want a stronger Japanese military or nuclear armament.
Historically, the Democratic Party of Japan has supported reducing, not eliminating, the U.S. military presence. But Kan has made it a goal to remove Marines from Okinawa.
Kan found support on Okinawa, where there is a strong anti-base movement.
Besides the Democratic party’s candidates for the four district seats from Okinawa, there are several from other parties who advocate removing U.S. troops from the island.
Chief among them, according to their campaign statments, is Mitsuko Tomon, 60, a vice governor in the administration of former Gov. Masahide Ota, an outspoken base opponent.
Tomon, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, is a former Japanese language and cultural teacher at Kubasaki High School. Local newspaper polls show she currently is favored to win a central/northern Okinawa seat in the House.