Okinawa governor tells US to deploy missiles elsewhere

He warns of 'strong resistance' to US bases, highlighting challenges facing Pentagon

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki (centre) arrives at Naha airport, on Oct 31, 2019. Mr Tamaki said that any US attempt to base intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Okinawa would be firmly opposed by the local people. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO • As the Pentagon hunts for sites to deploy missiles against a rising China, Okinawa's governor is warning the United States to steer clear of Japan's southern prefecture.

Governor Denny Tamaki said last Friday that any US attempt to base intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Okinawa would be firmly opposed by the local people.

Mr Tamaki, who was elected last year on a campaign to get the US Marines' Futenma air base out of the prefecture, said the region already shoulders an unfair burden by hosting about half of the 50,000 US military personnel in Japan.

"Intermediate-range ballistic missiles can be used to attack other countries, so deploying them would conflict with the Constitution and lead to a further build-up of the US bases," Mr Tamaki, 60, told Bloomberg News. "To have new military facilities would be absolutely unacceptable."

Mr Tamaki's comments underscore the challenges facing the US as it seeks to deploy land-based cruise missiles and intermediate-range ballistic missiles after withdrawing from a treaty with Russia that banned them.

The Trump administration scrapped the agreement in part because China, which was not bound by the treaty, has a variety of similar missiles that can target US bases and allies in the region.

Many of the most likely sites for such missiles, including treaty allies such as Australia, Japan and South Korea, may be reluctant to accept the weapons out of fear of inflaming domestic opposition.

China has also warned that those countries would face retaliation if they agreed to host the missiles.

Okinawa would be an ideal place for such weapons, since its bases could put all of China within range.

But it is also among the places where opposition to America's overseas troop presence is strongest, and local residents have complained for decades about crime, accidents, pollution and noise associated with the US bases.

Japan's central government has agreed with the US to move the Futenma base from the centre of a crowded city to a remote location.

Mr Tamaki defeated a candidate backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to win election as governor and held a referendum in March in which 70 per cent voted against the relocation plan.

Mr Tamaki said any missile deployment would face similar opposition. "Strong resistance should be expected," he said.

Last Wednesday, Okinawa protested to the central government over US forces using the Kadena Air Base for parachute training. The Okinawa prefectural government believes that allowing US forces to use Kadena for parachute drills is in violation of a bilateral pact that states such exercises should be conducted on Iejima, a remote island off Okinawa.

"We cannot help but feel strong resentment because the Kadena base has been continuously used for parachute training," Deputy Okinawa Governor Kiichiro Jahana told Japanese foreign and defence ministry officials at the prefectural government building.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2019, with the headline Okinawa governor tells US to deploy missiles elsewhere. Subscribe