U.S. should close Futenma base

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Japanese voters are angry. Last year, they elected a liberal-left reform party that promised to close the U.S. Futenma military base in Okinawa. Last month, the voters in Nago, on the northern part of the island chain, elected a mayor who opposed the relocation of Futenma to their town. The incumbent mayor who lost supported the construction. Yet, the U.S. government is trying to bully the Japanese government with the threat of serious consequences if it doesn't accept relocating the base.

But the people of Japan are not backing down. They want Futenma closed. And the U.S. people should support them.

Japan's Akahata newspaper reports that at the planned construction site for relocating Futenma, Nago residents have been staging a sit-in struggle against the plan. They have set up a a tent community on the place where the U.S. plans to build an on-sea heliport, destroying important marine habitat, including coral reefs, with a massive landfill. 

The Futenma base opposition is not new. Residents of Okinawa have argued against its relocation for more than a dozen years, according to activist Nishikawa Ikuo. "This mayoral election result shows a firm refusal of the construction of a new U.S. base," Nishikawa told Akahata. "We have argued against the construction plan for 13 years. The election result accurately reflects the Nago people's opposition. I want the government to respect our demand."

There are some 14 U.S. military bases on Okinawa, which have caused long-standing problems, among them pollution and crime. U.S. soldiers have assaulted, and even raped, Okinawan residents over the years, infuriating the people there and leading to anti-American tensions. In 2005, the U.S. and Japan signed an agreement to move Futenma to Henoko (near Nago). But the will of the Japanese people has to be taken into account.

U.S.-based Just Foreign Policy is urging people to send a message to President Obama and Congress to "respect democracy in Japan" and close, not relocate, the Futenma Air Base.

Such a move would not endanger U.S. security. It would enhance it by showing that the U.S. respects Japan. It would also save billions of dollars a year - for both U.S. and Japanese taxpayers - that could be put to human and environmental needs.

It's the kind of change U.S. voters wanted too.

 Photo: People join a protest rally against the U.S. Marine Corps base Futenma in Okinawa, Nov. 18, 2009. Nathan Keirn/CC