Okinawa governor travels to Washington to lobby for a reduced US troop presence
Stars and Stripes March 10, 2023
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki met with politicians, academics and diplomats to lobby for a reduced U.S. troop presence in his prefecture during a weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., his third since taking office.
With Japan spending a record amount to forestall a perceived military threat from China, Tamaki took a message of diplomacy over missiles to the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, a spokesman for Okinawa’s Military Base Affairs Division told Stars and Stripes by phone Friday. Tamaki’s five-day trip ended Friday.
Tamaki objects to Tokyo’s plans to position surface-to-air missiles on the Nansei Islands, part of Okinawa prefecture, to defend against a missile strike by China or North Korea. He has said he believes the plan violates Japan’s Constitution, which disavows the use of military force.
Tamaki has said basing missiles in the prefecture places a burden on the local population and makes them a target. He has espoused diplomacy to ease regional tensions.
Tamaki continued to lobby against plans to relocate the Marine Corps’ air operations at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in congested Ginowan to a new airfield under construction at Camp Schwab to the north, according to a copy of his itinerary.
The governor also requested U.S. officials provide a plan to reduce the presence of U.S. military bases on Okinawa and the immediate relocation of Marines to Guam and Hawaii. Part of the Marines’ plan to relocate the airfield includes moving thousands of Marines to a new base under construction on Guam.
Tamaki met on Wednesday with U.S. Sens. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., and U.S. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the House minority leader, Jill Tokuda, D-Hawaii, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
“I asked them to tell the U.S. government to conduct diplomacy peacefully and relieve tensions to not bring war to Okinawa,” Tamaki said, according to the itinerary.
Tamaki also continued to lobby for access by the prefecture to U.S. bases to test for the presence of PFAS in the soil and water. The chemicals are toxic substances found in firefighting foam commonly used on U.S. military bases and used to make coatings that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
On Tuesday, Tamaki met with Joel Ehrendreich, the State Department director of the office of Japanese affairs and the former U.S. consul general on Okinawa; Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Koji Tomita; Mike Mochizuki, associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University; and Christopher Johnstone, Japan chair for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, according to his itinerary.
Tamaki’s predecessor, Takeshi Onaga, started the annual lobbying trip and made four visits to Washington, D.C., before dying of pancreatic cancer in 2018.