Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Money Talks in Keeping US in Okinawa A Mayoral Election on Sunday Muddied the Waters for the US-Japan Military Alliance

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Money Talks in Keeping US in Okinawa A Mayoral Election on Sunday Muddied the Waters for the US-Japan Military Alliance

Article excerpt

In some ways, Okinawans are like the guy in the old joke who complains to his therapist that his brother thinks he's a chicken. The therapist inquires gently, "Why don't you take him to an institution?"

"We would," the man replies. "But we need the eggs."

For many Okinawans, the 28,000 US troops in their midst are an oppressive, noisy, and occasionally criminal presence. At the same time, the American bases mean lots of eggs - thousands of jobs and lucrative subsidies from Tokyo. On Sunday, the tension between these two realities came into sharp relief. Voters in the small Okinawan city of Nago narrowly rejected a mayoral candidate who opposed the construction of a massive, floating US helicopter base in nearby waters. Instead they elected a candidate who stayed vague on the issue but promised subsidies and economic assistance for Nago - carrots being offered if the installation is built. Shinyu Isa, an activist who opposes the US presence, spells out the paradox: "This election proved that we want both money and 'no American bases' at the same time." The US-Japan military alliance, which Washington says is the keystone to peace and security in East Asia, has many vague aspects. At first blush Tateo Kishimoto's victory seems like a plus for officials who want the alliance to prosper. At least his opponent, who vowed to stop the heliport, was not elected. But here is what mayor-elect Kishimoto said yesterday about the project: "The central government and prefectural government {of Okinawa} should discuss the issue." As for the people of Nago, he added: "We're not in a position to say we're for it or against it. But for the time being we are not going to accept it." Two years ago, after Okinawans rose up in outrage over the September 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by three US servicemen, the US and Japan agreed to steps designed to make the American presence less onerous. The pact was an acknowledgement that it was unfair to put 75 percent of all US military installations in Japan in Okinawa Prefecture, whose islands comprise less than 1 percent of the nation. US bases cover a fifth of the main island. The high point was the promise to close the Marines' Futenma Air Station, a helicopter airfield that has become surrounded by homes, shopping districts, and even elementary schools. The catch was that Japan would have to provide the Marines a comparable facility within Okinawa. …

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