Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki takes a tour of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, July 28, 2023.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki takes a tour of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, July 28, 2023. (Clayton Baker/U.S. Marine Corps)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The preponderance of U.S. military bases on Okinawa are a threat to world peace and make the island a potential target, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told a United Nations panel this week.

Tamaki, speaking Monday before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, was seeking international support for his campaign to halt construction of a U.S. military runway in Okinawa’s rural northeast, a spokesman for Okinawa prefecture’s Henoko Base Construction Countermeasures Division said by phone Wednesday.

The latest in a string of legal counterstrikes, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled two weeks ago that Tamaki must approve construction changes for the runway being built at Marine Corps base Camp Schwab.

The airfield is expected to one day replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in densely populated Ginowan city.

“I am here today to ask the world to witness the situation in Okinawa, where the concentration of American bases threatens the peace, and prevents equal participation in decision-making,” Tamaki said, according to a transcript on the prefecture’s website. He called for “stronger diplomatic efforts” by governments operating in the region.

Landfill work continues for a runway at Camp Schwab, a Marine Corps base on Okinawa, Sept. 15, 2022.

Landfill work continues for a runway at Camp Schwab, a Marine Corps base on Okinawa, Sept. 15, 2022. (Frank Andrews/Stars and Stripes)

Tamaki’s comments were immediately repudiated by an unnamed Japanese official from the government mission in Geneva, Kyodo news agency reported Tuesday.

“Steadily advancing the construction work based on the policy that the Henoko relocation is the only solution will enable the complete return of Futenma air station as swiftly as possible,” the official said.

Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara on Tuesday acknowledged Okinawa’s “heavy burden” but reiterated government policy that relocating Marine air operations to Schwab was the “only solution,” according to a video on the ministry’s website.

He pledged to move construction forward while providing thorough explanations to Tamaki and the local populace.

Tamaki also met Monday with Marcos Orellana, an U.N. special rapporteur on toxics and human rights, to discuss PFAS contamination believed to be from U.S. bases on the island, the division spokesman said. It’s customary in Japan for some government officials to speak to the media without giving their names.

The speech marked the second time an Okinawa governor has spoken in Switzerland; former Gov. Takeshi Onaga addressed the council in 2015.

Okinawa, with a population of 1.4 million and about the same area as Tokyo, is home to about 30,000 U.S. service members and another 50,000 civilian employees and family members, according to information from the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and U.S. Forces Japan.

The 32 U.S. installations, including one it shares with the Japan Self-Defense Forces, occupy about 18% of the island, according to Okinawa prefecture.

author picture
Mari Higa is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in 2021. She previously worked as a research consultant and translator. She studied sociology at the University of Birmingham and Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of Social Sciences.
author picture
Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now