AUSTRALIA has been granted a new $400 million transfer of control from its US partner Chitose Airport to a Japanese-run airport in Okinawa.
The transfer comes as US President Donald Trump is seeking to modernise the country’s ageing military, which is already suffering from budget shortfalls and dwindling air traffic.
Chitose, located in northern Okinawa Prefecture, was the US military’s main base during the occupation of Okinawa in 1945.
After the end of the US occupation, the US-occupied island was re-administered by Japan, but its inhabitants are still technically residents of Japan.
With the US government’s approval, the Chitoses were given a new, US-controlled airport at Okinawa’s main airport in December last year.
It will be used to facilitate the transfer of Chitos aircraft control to Japanese authorities, which will then have the final say on the use of its facilities and the maintenance of its fleet.
But while the transfer is seen as a welcome boost to the US economy, many locals are concerned that the transfer will only be temporary.
“I’m not sure what to think about it,” said Yoshiko Nakamura, who lives just a few minutes’ walk from the airport.
“[Chitos] has already started operating, so it won’t take long to be full operation,” she said.
Many Okinawans say the US has failed to adequately protect Okinawa from the Japanese military’s influence in the country.
During the occupation, Okinawa was held in military lockdown by the US.
In December last.
the US declared a state of emergency, meaning that any foreign military activity would be monitored by US forces.
According to a letter from Okinawa’s governor, the relocation of Chits aircraft control will not affect the local population.
However, some Okinawas worry that the move will make the city more vulnerable to the Japanese security forces.
“If you see a helicopter or an airplane flying over your village, do not let it enter the area,” said one resident.
Last month, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga warned that the relocation could cause the closure of other military facilities and facilities owned by Japan.
“The relocation will cause a huge impact on Okinawa’s infrastructure and will cause significant damage to local businesses,” he said.
“In order to ensure the safety of the local people, the government has asked that residents avoid traveling to Okinawa.”
Onaga has repeatedly warned against the threat posed by the Japanese state’s security forces and said that Okinawhas government was in the process of building a wall along the island’s main trade route with Japan.