US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy visited Okinawa for the first time, threading diplomatically amid underlying opposition against plans to relocate a US military base there.
The US envoy met with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who approved relocation plans to Nago city after years of deadlock. Nakaima said he hopes they could work together to address issues related to the US bases.
Okinawans strongly oppose relocating the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the city of Ginowan to the remote area of Nago in the north, and want the US bases moved completely off the island.
Kennedy said Washington would do its best to reduce the burden of its heavy troop presence there.
“The United States is committed to working with you and the government of Japan to make that happen as rapidly as possible,” Kennedy told local leaders at a reception hosted by the US consul-general.
Approximately 26,000 US troops are stationed in Okinawa (more than half of the US military personnel in Japan) under a long-standing security alliance with Japan.
Kennedy met with locals during her landmark visit.
“Seeing so many students at the museum was really, I think, a great reminder of the importance of working together to reduce the burden of American military presence here so that we can build the future for the students of Okinawa and create opportunities for them,” Kennedy said.
She also visited a peace park and offered flowers at a mausoleum which honors people who died in heavy fighting during the closing months of World War II.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Okinawans took to the streets in protest of the plans.
“We as Okinawan people gave our answer many, many times that we don’t want maritime bases here,” said Kazue Nakamura-Huber, a resident in Okinawa.
By Maesie Bertumen
Image of protesters in Ginowan, 2009: thechrisdavis/Flickr