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US Admiral Testifies on Marines Realignment

SNA (Tokyo) — On April 26, US Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris, speaking before the US House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee, reaffirmed the plan to transfer some US Marines out of Okinawa to other regions.

About 4,000 of the roughly 19,000 US Marines in Okinawa, Admiral Harris stated, will be transferred to Guam “in the 2024 to 2028 time frame.” Another 3,000 will be sent to Hawaii, and a couple thousand more to other locations, ultimately reducing the US Marine presence in Okinawa to about 10,000 or 11,000.

Admiral Harris explained, “The whole issue of moving Marines from Okinawa elsewhere is important to our alliance relationship with Japan.” He also indicated that he anticipates the new US Marines airbase at Henoko will be functioning by around 2025.

Left unaddressed in Admiral Harris’ testimony, and not brought up by US lawmakers either, is that currently both the Governor of Guam and the Governor of Okinawa oppose the realignment plans that the admiral says will happen.

On April 6, Guam Governor Eddie Calvo announced that he now opposes the build-up of US Marines forces on his island. The governor’s public stance hasn’t changed in the meantime.

Some local activists, most prominently Dr. Michael Lujan Bevacqua, are now planning a lawsuit against the US military: “I’m definitely encouraging community groups that have been resistant to the build-up or have had issues with the build-up, this now is the time to really reach out to the governor,” stated Bevacqua.

On the other hand, more establishment figures on Guam seem to have opinions more similar to that of Legislature of Guam Senator Thomas Ada: “This military build-up is going to go with or without the governor’s support.”

In Okinawa, Governor Takeshi Onaga is doing everything in his power to disrupt the plans to build the US Marines airbase at Henoko. A new lawsuit is expected shortly, though the courts have so far backed the Abe government completely.

In Okinawa’s case, the general public is definitely against the Henoko plan. Fresh evidence has been provided by the Asahi Shimbun, which recently conducted a public opinion poll finding 61% of Okinawa residents against the Henoko construction and only 23% in support.

Admiral Harry Harris and the Abe government share the trait of not acknowledging within the bilateral relationship that such political opposition even exists, or that the consent of the local people is in any way necessary. They hold the transparent expectation that all of the opposition will simply be brushed aside.

In the case of Guam, that may indeed prove to be the case, as a majority of the island’s residents, including Governor Calvo himself, are basically supportive of receiving the Marines if their economic conditions are met. But in Okinawa there is no reason to believe that the deep-rooted local opposition is going to melt away or that there will not be serious political consequences of one sort or another for dismissing the views of the people who live there.

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