03 April 2013

Japan ignores voices of Okinawa in Futenma move

The Asahi Shimbun


The Defense Ministry on March 22 submitted a land reclamation application to Okinawa Prefecture to build a new airfield off Henoko, in the city of Nago, that would replace the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

The move is part of an agreement between Japan and the United States to relocate the Futenma base from its current location in the middle of the densely populated city of Ginowan.
But it can only be described as a long-shot attempt to break the impasse over the issue without laying the necessary groundwork.

Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima is to decide whether to accept the application in about eight months.

We have argued in our editorials that applying to Okinawa for the land reclamation despite strong opposition from an overwhelming majority of the people there would only complicate the situation.

Unfortunately, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has turned that worrisome prospect into reality.

Nakaima on March 22 said: “How is it possible to do it when all 41 municipalities (in Okinawa Prefecture) are opposed? I just can’t understand it.”

Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine also expressed his resentment about the action, calling it “a surprise attack, totally without warning.”

It is hardly surprising that the move has further deepened Okinawans' distrust of the central government.

It would be grossly irresponsible for the Abe administration to put pressure on the governor to accept the application after creating such a situation.

The Abe administration has rushed to submit the application for land reclamation primarily because it wanted to achieve visible “progress” toward an early relocation of the Futenma base. Tokyo and Washington have agreed to solve the problem swiftly to demonstrate their commitment to enhancing the bilateral security alliance.

The Abe administration also fears that the victory of a candidate opposed to the relocation plan in the Nago mayoral election early next year would make it even more difficult to move forward with the plan, and apparently wants to pave the way for the governor’s approval of the plan before the election.

But there is no denying that the move has only hardened Okinawa’s attitude toward the issue.

Abe has expressed his intention to “pursue the implementation of the relocation plan while listening to the voices of people in Okinawa and building mutual trust.”

But his actions have completely contradicted his words.

The Futenma move is not the only example.
The Abe administration plans to hold a government-sponsored ceremony on April 28, the day on which the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into force in 1952, to commemorate Japan’s independence. The government has decided to call it the “Restoration of Sovereignty Day.”

It was the day when the occupation of Japan by the Allied powers ended. But it is called the “Day of Humiliation” in Okinawa, which remained under the administration of the U.S. military even after the treaty took effect.

Many of the U.S. bases in the mainland were relocated to Okinawa one after another, forcing the southern island prefecture to bear an unfairly heavy burden in Japan’s security alliance with the United Sates.

Naturally, people in Okinawa have long been voicing their indignation about the heavy U.S. military presence within their prefecture.

It seems clear that the Abe administration is making every effort to please the United States while paying little serious attention to the feelings of Okinawans.

The government intends to take measures to ease Okinawa's burden in order to soften the public opposition there to the Futenma relocation plan. However, it is hard to imagine that such half measures will change Okinawans' minds.

Is Abe ready to take political responsibility himself for the consequences if the governor says no to the application?