Japan diaries: Okinawa to hold referendum on US base move on 24 February 2019

Occasion, Okinawa: This southwestern corner of Japan is in the middle of two slow-burning crises, both intimately connected to Japan’s security and territorial interests,Japan diaries: Okinawa to hold referendum on US base move on 24 February 2019

Japan diaries: Okinawa to hold referendum on US base move on 24 February 2019

Ishigaki island city, in charge of the Senkaku Islands on the East China Sea is in the eye of the storm between Japan and China, feeling the heat as China keeps the pressur pressure on Japan by sending ships and aircraft to challenge Japan’s ownership of these uninhabited islands. Tokyo and Beijing may be dialling down tensions but here on the frontline, Japanese officials say Chinese forces are keeping up the pressure on them.

Meanwhile, on February 24, the Okinawa prefecture (province) will hold a referendum on moving a prominent US forces base at Futemna to a spot to the north of the island If the central government in Tokyo is acutely conscious of the importance of the US-Japan alliance as well as the necessity of keeping US troops stationed on the south-western corner of the country, the local government, a Communist party has other ideas. Officials say the local governor is “playing politics” - this translates to increased rallies to get the US troops out. That, the central government officials say, would be handing over a victory to China.

For the record, the central government is in charge of national security, which makes the referendum puzzling For Japan, the US alliance is at the heart of its security and defense policy, and reaffirmed the same in December when Japan released its latest defence policy guidelines.

Tokyo, alarmed that the referendums might go in unexpected directions, especially after Brexit, has insisted on a third NOTA (none of the above) option to be placed in the referendum ballot papers.

That was the only way the mayor of Ishigaki, Yoshitaka Nakayama, even agreed to participate in the forthcoming referendum. Nakayama is worried that local politics might drive the US troops away which, he believes, would turn Japan into another Philippines (which gave up its US base, and lost the power game to China).

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