On February 24th the residents of Okinawa voted in a “symbolic referendum”, i.e. one which is purely an expression of opinion, with no obligation on anyone to take any notice of its outcome. In this, they voted heavily against the relocation of the Futenma base, despite the fact this had been agreed twenty years ago.
There are many stories which are rarely covered in the media because they can’t be compressed into easy soundbites. The whole world was told about the Afghan mujahideen kicking out the Soviet-backed government in 1989, as this was the culmination of a narrative everyone understood and most wanted to hear. When those same mujahideen pursued a prolonged civil war against each other Afghanistan quickly slipped from the front pages, as few had the time or the inclination to understand who was who or why they should be interested..
The relocation of the US military base at Futenma on the Japanese island of Okinawa has once again made the news. This is not because something newsworthy has suddenly happened, but because something specific enough has happened to enable the media to put a spin on this controversial issue.
Futenma has been described as the most dangerous military base in the world, and it would be even if it were located in a relatively open space. Instead it is right in the middle of a built-up area, surrounded by homes and businesses. All US airbases are obliged to have clear zones at the end of runways, and Futenma doesn’t, and couldn’t create them if it wanted to without knocking down an unfeasible number of buildings and rehousing their inhabitants.
There should therefore be no question that Okinawans would want to be rid of the base for this reason, quite apart from the other factors in play, such as the ongoing incidents of military personnel misconduct
Nevertheless, the 1996 agreement to move the base has not been implemented, largely because Okinawans themselves have seen the need for the base. Additionally, it’s been noted that its presence supports many local businesses.
There have also been many other factors complicating the picture. The objective has never been to close the base down but to relocate it to another site on Okinawa.