A popular local leader in Okinawa and critic of the U.S. military presence there declared his candidacy in a November gubernatorial race, putting in doubt plans for a new American base.
The announcement Wednesday by Takeshi Onaga, a four-term mayor of Okinawa’s capital of Naha, creates a headache for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wants to upgrade Japan’s defense alliance with the U.S. to counter China’s territorial assertions in the waters near Okinawa.
The headquarters of Mr. Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party backs the re-election bid of the incumbent governor, who supports the construction of a new U.S. Marine Corps facility in a rural part of Okinawa. The new base is designed to replace an existing facility in a densely populated section of Okinawa, and it is part of a broader plan to modernize U.S. military facilities in Japan.
Getting rid of the old base is popular on Okinawa, but building a big new one isn’t. People on the island, which plays host to three-quarters of the U.S. bases in Japan, have long complained about noise, accidents and crimes involving troops.
“I have renewed my resolve never to allow the construction of a base that will continue to exist for 100 years into the future,” Mr. Onaga said in a speech at a city assembly meeting. “We need to let them know that Okinawa can no longer accept being dumped on like this.”
The incumbent governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, gave permission last December to reclaim the land for the new base next to an existing facility at Camp Schwab, granting a request of Mr. Abe’s government. If Mr. Onaga is elected, he would likely reverse the decision, further delaying a project that was first floated 19 years ago.
Mr. Onaga, who was for decades a member of Mr. Abe’s conservative party before becoming independent, snared more than 70% of the votes cast in Naha’s last mayoral election in 2012. He received an endorsement from several parties, including the LDP.