Antibase Okinawa Gov Denny Tamaki on Friday called for U.S. lawmakers to visit the southern island prefecture to learn about the reality of American military bases there ahead of his planned trip to the United States.
"I believe it would be the first step toward a real resolution of all the problems (for U.S. politicians) to see the bases, the lives of the people, the natural environment and also the warmth of the Okinawa people," Tamaki told a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo.
The newly elected governor, whose father was a U.S. serviceman, said he wants to "proactively" invite American lawmakers to the prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
Tamaki, who won the gubernatorial election in late September following the death of his anti-base predecessor, is scheduled to make a five-day visit from Sunday to Washington and New York to explain his opposition to a controversial base relocation plan within Okinawa to Congress members and U.S. government officials.
Based on a 1996 Japan-U.S. accord, the central Japanese government plans to move the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded residential district of Ginowan to the less populated coastal area of Henoko in Nago.
But many local residents, troubled by accidents and crimes involving U.S. military personnel, want the base moved outside of the prefecture altogether. The issue has remained a source of friction between Tokyo and Okinawa.
The governor stressed both the Japanese and U.S governments should make efforts to reduce Okinawa's burden of hosting the bases and deepen ties for peace.
"I would like to directly convey to the (American) people such a view and talk about democracy," Tamaki said.
The central government recently restarted construction work for the Futenma base transfer by suspending the Okinawa government's move to block land reclamation at Henoko.
In the press conference, Tamaki underlined that Okinawa "will never give up" trying to stop the construction with the strong support of local residents.
The former opposition Diet member also said he upholds the Japan-U.S. security alliance and is not seeking the immediate withdrawal of all American bases from Okinawa.
Meanwhile, the Okinawa prefectural government is making final arrangements to hold a referendum in February on the controversial relocation of a U.S. military base within the southwestern island prefecture, municipality sources said Friday.
An ordinance passed by the prefectural assembly in October requires a referendum be held by April 30, and Tamaki will decide the exact date, according to the sources.