Strength of Okinawa opposition to realignment plan is debated
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — As U.S. and Japanese officials meet in Hawaii this week about realigning U.S. troops in Japan, the strength of opposition to the plan on Okinawa is being questioned.
Organizers of a Sunday protest rally in Ginowan claim more than 35,000 people attended, but that number was greatly inflated, a U.S. official on Okinawa contended on Tuesday.
While supporting Okinawans’ right to express their views, “we must point out that the organizers’ figure, which was picked up by the Japanese and international press, was overstated,” said the official, who cited diplomatic concerns for speaking on the condition his name not be used.
“We have reliable information that the figure was actually less than 10,000 people,” he said.
Okinawa prefectural police would not release attendance figures.
The attendance-figure differences emerged as U.S. and Japanese officials began further realignment talks — and as Okinawa Marines for the first time joined other U.S. officials in asserting publicly that only minor details remain to be agreed.
Also noted was the absence Sunday of Okinawan politcal leaders, including Gov. Keiichi Inamine and Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, mayor of Nago, where the plan calls for building a new air base.
Both object to the airport plan, though Shimabukuro said he’s willing to accept it if Japan and the U.S. tweak some details, such as moving aircraft flight paths away from residential areas.
Such issues may be on the agenda of the Hawaii talks. U.S. officials have said they consider the bilateral realignment agreement released in October final, with only implementation details remaining to be hashed out.
Marines consider the October announcement final, not a draft, according to a Voice of America report Tuesday quoting Lt. Col. Richardo Stewart, deputy assistant chief of staff for U.S. Marine Corps Bases in Japan. “It’s an agreement and what comes out in March is really, how do we implement that agreement?” he said, according to the report.
It was the first public statement by any Marine on Okinawa about the realignment plan. Marine spokesmen have referred previous Stripes queries to U.S. Forces Japan and the State Department.
But Japanese officials have called the report an “interim” plan, saying it’s not to be finalized until month’s end.
Many Okinawans concerned about the heavy U.S. military presence on their island have expressed mixed feelings. They applaud the proposal to move some 8,000 Marines and more than 9,000 of their dependents off Okinawa, mostly to Guam. They also support the plan’s call to return “significant land in the densely populated areas south of Kadena Air Base,” which Okinawa officials have interpreted as Camp Kinser, Naha Military Port, the rest of Camp Lester and parts of Camp Foster.
But they object to moving Marine air operations to a facility to be built on part of Camp Schwab and reclaimed land in Oura Bay in rural northeastern Okinawa.