Japan’s rapid military build-up a worry for Okinawans, governor says

By Yukiko Toyoda and Tim Kelly

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s rapid military build-up is worrying residents of the Okinawa islands close to Taiwan, their governor said Thursday, further straining already fraught ties between the region and the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo.

Kishida unveiled a plan in December to double Japan’s defence spending over five years in a bid to deter China from using military force against Taiwan that could also threaten its territory.

Much of that build-up will be in Okinawa, which has been at odds with the central government for decades for allowing a heavy U.S. military presence there.

“Without explaining things to residents, and without winning their understanding, they’ve made a plan and are rushing to implement it,” the governor, Denny Tamaki, said in an interview.

“We must never allow people in Okinawa to go through the same horrible experience that we went through” in World War Two, he added.

Up to a third of Okinawans died in that conflict, some at the hands of Japanese troops, during a bloody U.S. campaign to take the islands, leaving a lingering resentment against Tokyo.

The strategic value of Okinawa, however, is rising as concern about recent China’s military activity grows in Washington and Tokyo.

Beijing fired missiles into the sea near Okinawa last year after a visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tamaki, the son of a U.S. Marine and a Japanese mother, spoke from Geneva via video link.

He was visiting the Swiss city to address the United Nations Human Rights Council in a bid to garner international support for his opposition to a Japanese plan to relocate U.S. military units from the Futenma air station in Okinawa’s densely populated south to a base in Henoko in the north.

Many of those living nearby oppose the expansion, which includes the construction of a runway over a coral reef. Tamaki wants the government to move the U.S. troops elsewhere in Japan instead.

“Many people in Japan say there’s nothing wrong with a military build-up in Okinawa, but Japan’s security is an issue for all of Japan and is an issue everyone should think about,” Tamaki added.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)