Voters on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa have voted against allowing the US to build a new military base to replace an old one. The Japanese prime minister says the base will be built anyway.
Since the end of World War II, the US has had military bases in Japan. Military bases support armed forces like the army, navy, air force, or marines. Most of the US military bases are on Okinawa, where the bases take up more than 10% of the land.
The bases are the result of agreements signed by the US and Japan. One reason the US bases are there is to protect the Japanese and other US allies (friendly countries). The bases also allow the US to keep up its power in the area. The US wants to remind countries that may not be so friendly, such as China and North Korea, of its strength.
But the US bases are not popular on Okinawa. The bases take up a lot of space. They are also very busy and loud, with lots of activity on the ground and in the air.
The lifestyle of the people in the US military is also very different from that of the Japanese people. Worse, there have been a few cases where some people from the military have hurt Japanese people or carried out other crimes. One very bad crime in 1995 caused many people to change their minds about the US bases.
The busy Japanese city of Futenma is home to one of the most unpopular US bases. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called the base “the most dangerous base in the world” because of military activity happening so close to houses and schools.
The US and the Japanese government have a plan to move the base to a quieter area by the sea, called Henoko. But many Japanese people don’t just want the base moved, they want it gone.
The military activity is a big part of the problem. But people are also worried about the environment. The sea near Henoko has important coral reefs. It is also home to a threatened sea animal, called a “dugong”. To build the new US base, much of the sea near Henoko would be filled in to make more land.
On Sunday, Okinawa had a special vote, called a referendum , on whether voters supported moving the Futenma base to Henoko. The results were very clear – 72% of the people voted against the base. Only 18% supported it. But the referendum was “non-binding”. That means that the government does not have to do what the referendum says.
Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki supports the results of the referendum, and will report the results to the national government and to the US.
But Mr. Abe has already said that the base will go ahead, ignoring the results of the vote. Mr. Abe feels that moving the base to Henoko is the only way to protect Japanese people while keeping the promises that Japan has made to the US.
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