U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel visits Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Jan. 19, 2024.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel visits Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Jan. 19, 2024. (Jennessa Davey/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A U.S. military C-20G Gulfstream, reportedly set to carry the U.S. ambassador to Japan, is cleared to land on the islands of Ishigaki and Yonaguni this week, despite objections by Okinawa prefecture.

The prefecture’s Airport Division notified the U.S. military on Monday of an open parking spot at Ishigaki Airport, a division spokesman told Stars and Stripes by phone Tuesday.

“The administration office rechecked the spots and found an open one in the international terminal,” the spokesman said. It’s customary in Japan that some government officials speak to reporters on condition of anonymity.

The prefecture, however, still discourages U.S. military aircraft from visiting the islands.

“Civilian airports were built for civilian aircraft; the prefecture’s policy is that the U.S. military should refrain from using the airport except in case of emergency,” the spokesman said.

The division originally rejected the stop at Ishigaki Airport, saying parking spots were full. The stop at Yonaguni Airport was approved in April.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel is expected to visit Japan Ground-Self Defense Force bases and meet city officials on both islands, according to a May 1 report by public broadcaster NHK that cited unnamed government officials.

Both islands are less than 150 miles east of Taiwan. Their proximity to the island democracy and the Senkaku islets, a Japanese possession, puts them in the center of regional tensions simmering between China and the United States.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo did not respond to an email seeking further information Tuesday; Japan’s Ministry of Defense declined comment when reached by phone and email. The Okinawa Defense Bureau, an arm of the ministry, did not respond to an email and phone calls.

The U.S. military asked the prefecture for clearance to use the Ishigaki and Yonaguni airports on May 17 for “transportation of personnel,” a spokeswoman for the prefecture’s Military Base Affairs Division said May 8.

The prefecture then appealed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Okinawa Liaison Office and Okinawa Defense Bureau to ask the U.S. military to refrain from using either airport, according to a post on the division’s X account, formerly Twitter, on Thursday.

U.S. Consulate General Naha requested information about the Ishigaki mayor’s schedule but did not mention any embassy travel plans, a city spokesman said by phone Tuesday.

A Yonaguni town spokeswoman on Tuesday said the town has not been notified of a visit by Emanuel.

Some Japanese government officials may speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.

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Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.

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