The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 25, 2012)
Seize the change of govt to push relocation issue
By taking advantage of a change of government, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito should do their utmost to advance the stalled relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station.
The Defense Ministry has finished revising its report on its environmental impact assessment in preparation for relocating the station's functions to the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture and submitted it to the Okinawa prefectural government.
The report was revised in response to the written opinion of Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima on the relocation to Henoko. The governor's opinion listed 579 points.
While adding assessments based on the latest survey on marine life, the ministry wrote that it would take the best environmental protection measures possible.
It can be said that the ministry's report responded thoroughly to the huge number of requests made by the governor.
Following the public announcement of its report later, the ministry will be able to apply to the prefectural government for approval to begin reclamation work for the construction of an air base to replace Futenma Air Station.
LDP President Shinzo Abe, who is certain to become the next prime minister, said he would like to make efforts to win the understanding of local governments and residents on the relocation plan.
Prospect dim for early solution
Nakaima said earlier the relocation would be impossible without local understanding. As it stands, there is no prospect for the ministry to win the governor's permission to carry out the reclamation work.
Nakaima had approved relocation to the Henoko district until the gubernatorial election in November 2010. He later shifted his stance to call for "relocation outside the prefecture," but he has not publicly declared objections to the relocation plan.
The incoming coalition government of the LDP and Komeito must reestablish a relationship of trust with the Okinawa prefectural government, which has been greatly damaged by the maladministration of the Democratic Party of Japan, and persuade Nakaima to approve the relocation plan.
To relocate the air station from the densely populated area of Ginowan to a sparsely inhabited area of Henoko would greatly reduce the burden on Okinawa of hosting U.S. bases.
Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine opposes the relocation plan, but some local communities around Henoko approve of the plan, which is significant.
If the Henoko relocation plan is realized, it will be possible to make effective use of the vacated air station, and to take various measures to promote the local economy. If the plan is abandoned, however, the currently dangerous situation in Ginowan is certain to continue for a long time.
Accident impact less
The safety of the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, newly deployed at Futenma Air Station, has been confirmed. But if an accident involving the new transport aircraft occurred, it is obvious the resulting damage to the coastal district of Henoko would be smaller than the impact of a similar accident in the urban area of Ginowan.
Solving the issue, which has been pending since the 1996 Japan-U.S. accord on the relocation, would greatly contribute to the reinforcement of the Japan-U.S. alliance, the importance of which is growing against the backdrop of China's military buildup and other developments.
We hope Nakaima will comprehensively consider these factors.
The important thing is for the central government to create an atmosphere in which the governor will find it easier to permit the reclamation work.
First of all, the LDP and Komeito need to persuade their prefectural organizations and their locally elected Diet members calling for "relocating the facility outside the prefecture" to change their stance, thus increasing local understanding on the Henoko relocation.
It is also vital to deal with the problem of local assembly members of Nago who are split over the relocation issue, and to make efforts to rebuild the cooperative relationship with Okinawa Prefecture, including expanded measures to promote the local economy.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 24, 2012)