Mr. Onaga was once the leader of the local chapter of Mr. Abe’s right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party, but he has broken with the prime minister over the issue of America’s military footprint, which he wants greatly reduced. Half of the 50,000 American military personnel in Japan are stationed here, and United States facilities take up one-fifth of Okinawan land.
Anger is increasingly reflected in the politics of Okinawa, where local elections are being held on Sunday. Late last month, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly passed a resolution demanding that all United States Marines be removed from the island, its strongest censure of the American military to date. Local elections are being held on Sunday.
The spot where the woman’s body was found, in woods beside a golf course, has been covered with hundreds of offerings of flowers, food and drink.
The furor is erupting at a sensitive time for Okinawa, and for Japan, and the growing wealth and power of China has sharpened the debate about the island’s future.
Mr. Abe is seeking to reinforce its position as a military outpost by building a new but widely contested base for the Marines and expanding Japan’s own military assets. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces began operating a sophisticated new radar station this year on the tiny island of Yonaguni, part of Okinawa Prefecture, to monitor Chinese naval activity in the East China Sea.
But at the same time, Asia’s new prosperity is opening up other possibilities.
These were on display 40 minutes south of Gate Street in Naha, Okinawa’s capital, where tourists from Taiwan, China and South Korea thronged the city’s shopping streets and hotels. Foreign tourism was up 70 percent last year. Airlines are adding new international flights to the semitropical island, while more Asian cruise lines are docking at Naha’s port.
“Okinawa used to be an object of pity in Japan, but now it’s a brand,” said Hiroshi Meguro, a former research fellow at the Institute of Okinawan Studies at Hosei University in Tokyo.
The bases never made Okinawans rich: The prefecture has the lowest per-capita income in Japan, one-third below the national average. Now, dependence on them is in decline, Mr. Meguro said, and with it Okinawans’ tolerance for the problems they bring.
Some in Okinawa would like to follow the example of the Philippines, which pushed out the American military in the early 1990s and redeveloped a major Navy base, at Subic Bay, into a lucrative resort destination.
“When it comes to the economy and tourism, it’s ‘Welcome, China,’” Mr. Meguro said. “Of course, it glosses over the fact that the Philippines has started to invite American forces back because it’s being menaced by China.”
Hiroji Yamashiro, a retired local civil servant, said that he wanted Okinawa to become a tourist center, but that the bases stood in the way. He spends most days protesting outside the gates of Camp Schwab, a Marine armory and firing range in the north that the Japanese and American governments want to radically expand by filling in a bay and building a pair of aircraft runways.
The plan illustrates the complexities facing Japanese and American policy makers. The expanded base is intended to replace another facility to the south, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which sits in the middle of a crowded city and has been the object of some of the most vigorous complaints by Okinawans. A Marine helicopter crashed just outside its walls in 2004, damaging a university.
Tokyo and Washington agreed two decades ago to shift much of Futenma’s equipment and personnel to Schwab. But local opposition has blocked the move, and work on the project was frozen before it really began.
On a boat ride around the bay, Mr. Yamashiro pointed to nearly uninterrupted beaches surrounding Camp Schwab. A couple of young men with military haircuts and snorkels had a small island inside its perimeter to themselves. Mr. Yamashiro said they should be replaced by far larger numbers of Chinese and Taiwanese tourists.
“The future is opening up in front of us, but the Japanese government is blocking it,” Mr. Yamashiro said.
Successive Japanese and American governments have struggled to find a satisfactory solution to the Futenma issue. Deadlines to start construction at Schwab have come and gone, holding up a broader reorganization of United States forces in Japan that would move some troops off Okinawa to Guam. But critics of the long-stalled plan, including Mr. Onaga, the governor, are holding out for a more drastic drawdown.
“Okinawa is isolated, physically and in people’s minds,” said Susumu Inamine, the mayor of Nago, where Camp Schwab is situated.
He does not want the base expanded, and has rebuffed offers of subsidies from the government in Tokyo that are contingent on his accepting the plan. “For the government, it’s a faraway place where what happens doesn’t impose any pain on the mainland,” he said.
The local authorities have little say over base policy. But they can hold up projects with tactics like withholding construction permits. The prefectural government recently fought Tokyo to a standstill in court over the expansion plan. A judge persuaded both sides to return to the negotiating table in March, but neither has shown signs of retreating.
“We’ll keep delaying until 2020, then 2030,” Mr. Inamine said. “The question is, can the U.S. wait that long before looking for another option?”
Many Americans in Okinawa feel the military has been unfairly demonized. They point to crime statistics that show United States personnel are arrested at lower rates than locals. Still, some sympathize with Okinawans’ sense that the United States occupation of their island, which formally concluded in 1972, has never truly ended.
Part of the problem is that the American military’s presence extends across the whole island, said a retired member of the Air Force who has lived in Japan for three decades and was stationed at various bases across Japan. Today, he manages several businesses in Okinawa, including one that does contract work for the military, and like other Americans with base connections, he requested anonymity to speak.
Michio Sakima, the owner of the Sakima Art Museum next to the Futenma base, said Okinawans’ anger over the recent killing reflected pent-up political frustration as much as the brutal nature of the crime.
His museum shares a fence with the base, and Futenma’s closing would relieve Mr. Sakima of the noise of jets and helicopters. But he opposes moving the Marines to Camp Schwab, he said, on the grounds that it would entrench the military presence on the island.
“We are still a colony,” he said. “When a serious crime happens, that’s when our real feelings come out.”
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