The two main candidates in the Okinawan gubernatorial election are both calling for the revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Atsushi Sakima, the candidate backed by the Abe administration, takes a more positive stance on this issue than previous candidates supported by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). He probably wants to show that he is keeping a certain distance from the administration, mindful of strong public opposition to the relocation of the Futenma Air Station to Henoko, Nago, but the Tokyo government remains negative on SOFA revision.
Sakima stated at a campaign meeting in Naha on Sept. 20: “Each time there are crimes and accidents involving U.S. military personnel, SOFA always becomes a major obstacle. I will definitely want to work for the revision of SOFA.” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who was campaigning for him, responded with: “We will take this to heart and make efforts.”
Sakima is adopting a posture of pushing for SOFA revision even though he is not taking a stand on Henoko relocation. Although past LDP candidates also mentioned SOFA revision, Sakima has come up with concrete proposals such as “establishing a mechanism through which Okinawa’s views can be conveyed” at the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee.
While the Sakima camp is emphasizing its connections with the Tokyo government in economic policies, overemphasis of his closeness to the administration may result in his “being seen as subservient to the government, preventing the expansion of support among the voters,” according to a House of Representatives member elected from Okinawa, in light of strong opposition to Henoko relocation among the Okinawans. On the other hand, there is no opposition in Okinawa to SOFA revision and an official of the campaign office says that “the LDP headquarters is also aware of this situation.”
Sakima’s rival, Denny Tamaki who opposes Henoko relocation, is saying that he will “demand drastic revision from the government.”
There is widespread discontent with SOFA in Okinawa but the government takes a negative stance on its revision. The Japanese and U.S. governments have so far responded with operational improvement or supplementary agreements on specific issues. A senior Foreign Ministry official says: “The government’s position is (not to revise SOFA, but) to persist in making operational improvements.” (Slightly abridged)