JAPAN:US envoy to Japan visits Okinawa as military base row continues

Friday 14 February 2014

Date: 12 February 2014

Type: News


Keywords: US military bases

Caroline Kennedy, the US ambassador to Japan, is due to meet with the governor of Okinawa on Wednesday in a bid to improve long-strained bilateral ties with the southern region.

Hundreds of protesters greeted Ms Kennedy as she arrived late on Tuesday night in Okinawa, a subtropical region which controversially accommodates tens of thousands of US troops and around three-quarters of its military facilities in Japan.

Ms Kennedy was due to meet Hirokazu Nakaima, 74, the governor of Okinawa, who recently ignited hopes of an end to 17 years of disputes by approving the relocation of a US marine base from a city centre to Nago, a more remote location towards the north of the island.

The proposed move, which the US describe as key to regional defence, is a key issue of tension in bilateral relations between the two nations, with long-standing and vociferous opposition from locals.

Confirmation of the island’s still-strong resistance to the relocation was reflected recently in the re-election of mayor of Nago, an outspoken opponent of the plans, last month, while residents also filed a lawsuit against the governor’s approval last week.

Ms Kennedy’s diplomatic skills are likely to be put to the test while taking part in the brief trip to Okinawa, during which she was expected to lay flowers at a peace memorial and visit a high school There were also reports that Ms Kennedy would view by helicopter the proposed site of the military base relocation during her visit, which comes at a time of heightened tension in the region, following recent high-profile clashes between Japan and China over disputed islands not far from Okinawa.

However, tensions were running high in the hours before Ms Kennedy arrived on the island, with more than 300 protesters holding signs that read "No Base!" and "Bring democracy to Okinawa" as they marched through the streets of the capital city Naha.

Meanwhile, an editorial in the Ryukyu Shimpo, a newspaper based in Okinawa - an area which remained under post-war US control until returned to Japan 1972 - urged Ms Kennedy to end its "military colonial rule".

It added: "We hope that your visit to Okinawa will help change the policy and allow the government to abandon the relocation [...] and to move the Futenma base outside Okinawa."###

See online : Telegraph

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