Relocation of U.S. base in Japan likely won't happen after Japanese election

Story highlights

  • Takeshi Onaga defeats two-term incumbent in Okinawa's gubernatorial race
  • Onaga wants U.S. Marine base there closed, not just relocated
  • The current governor approved relocation plans last year after 17 years of deadlock
  • Crimes by U.S. military personnel have made the base controversial
It took 17 years for the approval of plans to relocate a controversial U.S. military base in Japan, and now it appears those plans won't happen after all.
On Sunday, Takeshi Onaga won Okinawa's gubernatorial race. He defeated the two-term incumbent who, in 2013, approved the move of the base, according to the Kyodo News agency.
Onaga's victory delivers "a de-facto no vote" to the relocation, Kyodo reported. Onaga wants the base closed rather than moved, The Washington Post reported.
When Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima finally approved a landfill measure in December of last year, he ended a 17-year stalemate on plans to transfer the base from a densely populated area to a more sparsely populated one.
When Nakaima approved that measure, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a written statement that called the decision "absolutely critical to the United States' ongoing rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region and our ability to maintain a geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable force posture in the region."
The U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa was built in 1945, following the battle of Okinawa in World War II, according to the Marine Corps' website.
In recent years the base has been unpopular with the island's residents because of allegations against, and crimes committed by, U.S. military personnel.
Many residents were incensed by the rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl in 1995 by three U.S. military personnel. It sparked some of the worst anti-U.S. military demonstrations seen in Japan in decades.
In 2002, a U.S. staff sergeant in the Air Force was convicted of raping a Japanese woman in a parking lot outside a popular nightclub in Okinawa. Intense media coverage of the case brought pressure on the Japanese government to review its agreement with the United States about handling criminal cases in Japan involving the U.S. military.
And allegations that a Marine raped a 14-year-old girl caused a furor in 2008. The girl later decided not to pursue charges.
In 2012, three U.S. servicemen were arrested in connection with rapes in Okinawa.
About half of all U.S. military personnel in Japan are stationed on the island.
According to Kyodo, the base relocation was a major issue in this gubernatorial election.
"We proved that the people of Okinawa disagree (with Nakaima)," Onaga told reporters, describing the outcome as opening "a new page in history," Kyodo reported.