By Sumiyo Heianna, Washington correspondent
In Japan, the U.S. military bases in Okinawa are spoken of in terms of deterrence. Under the Trump administration, however, they have often been discussed in terms of finance. This seems to be gradually changing as the U.S. presidential election draws near.
On Aug. 23, President Donald Trump released his core priorities for a second term. In the list of the ten core policies, “End Our Reliance on China” comes after “Jobs” and “Eradicate COVID-19.”
Under “End Our Reliance on China” are “Bring Back 1 Million Manufacturing Jobs from China,” “No Federal Contracts for Companies who Outsource to China,” and “Hold China Fully Accountable for Allowing the Virus to Spread around the World.”
“America First Foreign Policy,” the last core priority, includes “Stop Endless Wars and Bring Our Troops Home” and demands an increase in host nation support for U.S. forces overseas in the subitem of “Get Allies to Pay their Fair Share.” The “America First Foreign Policy” core priority also includes “Maintain and Expand America’s Unrivaled Military Strength.” Even as Mr. Trump says that he will end wars and bring troops home, he is declaring a military buildup.
In November 2016, when Mr. Trump was elected president, the late Takeshi Onaga, then Okinawa Governor, said he wanted to keep his hopes up for Mr. Trump’s “new ideas in politics.” Many prefectural residents thought the same. President Trump, however, proceeded to focus on the necessity of building a new base in the Henoko district of Nago City, turning it into a bargaining chip to press Japan to increase its host nation support for the U.S. bases.
To predict what impact a second term for President Trump would have on U.S. policy on the military bases in Okinawa, it may be helpful to look at people regarded as likely to be key players.
At his confirmation hearing on Aug. 5, U.S. Ambassador-nominee Kenneth Weinstein said that he understands that Okinawa Prefecture is asked to carry an unfair burden as the U.S. military bases are overly concentrated in that prefecture, but that he intends to steadily promote the building of a new base in Okinawa and further strengthen deterrence in relation to China.
Although he wore a gentle smile throughout his testimony, the content of what he said gave the impression that the future looks harsh for Okinawa, as the prefecture aims to reduce its base burden.
According to an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, President Trump selected Mr. Weinstein because he introduced him to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after his election and helped him build strong ties with the Japanese premier.
Mr. Weinstein has wielded influence in Washington circles as president of the conservative think tank Hudson Institute. He is known for taking a harsh view of China while having high regard for Japan as an “economic superpower that has military capabilities and political influence.”
A top White House official in the Obama administration who knows Mr. Weinstein describes him as follows: “[Mr. Weinstein] has the ability to effectively respond to the public, which wants to reduce the number of bases, and would be able to guide efforts to further strengthen Japan-U.S. security cooperation.”
The nomination of Weinstein as ambassador to Japan disregards Okinawa’s longstanding insistence that relocation within the prefecture does not lead to a reduction of the burden, as was shown in the case of the relocation of the Naha Military Port. The appointment may advance a U.S. forces realignment that prioritizes the new basic premise of China strategy. Okinawa needs to build a new theory [to advance its position].