May 17, 2014
EDITORIAL: Heavy-handed approach to Futenma can only antagonize Okinawa

An extraordinary situation concerning the proposed relocation of the U.S. military’s Futenma base is unfolding in Okinawa, which marked the 42nd anniversary of its reversion to Japan on May 15.

The Japanese government is aggressively pushing ahead with preparations for carrying out its plan to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the crowded city of Ginowan to the sparsely populated Henoko district of Nago, another city in the prefecture.

On April 11, the Abe administration took its first step toward building the new base when the Okinawa Defense Bureau, the Defense Ministry’s local bureau in charge of implementing the plan, submitted six requests with Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine. One of the requests was for use of the Henoko fishing port as an open storage yard for construction materials.

The move was made abruptly without any advance consultation. Officials at the defense bureau brought the applications into the Nago city office just before the end of the office hours. Some of the application documents were left with the wrong departments.

The documents unilaterally set a May 12 deadline for replying to the requests, although there is no legal basis for such a deadline. There were also many errors in the documents, such as omissions.

Although the Nago municipal government asked the bureau to resubmit the applications, the bureau has refused to do so, saying the documents were in order.

The unilaterally set May 12 deadline has passed, but the bureau remains intent on forging ahead with the construction plan while assuming that its requests have been turned down by the city.

Bewildered by the bureau’s attitude, the official in charge of the matter at the Nago municipal government said, “Since the applications don’t meet the formal requirements, we can’t start reviewing them.”

In January, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke about the plan to move the Futenma air base to the Henoko district, he said, “We intend to proceed with the plan in a sincere manner while trying to win the understanding of the local communities.”

But the reality belies his words. There has been no sign of good faith in the way the administration has been dealing with the matter.

The heavy-handed approach the government adopted appears to be an open challenge to Mayor Inamine, who was re-elected in January by running on a campaign to stop the relocation of the Funtenma base to Nago. After his re-election, he pledged to block the start of the construction of the new base by using his powers as the mayor.

The government plans to start drilling into the seabed for necessary investigations as early as June with an eye on beginning reclamation work next spring.

However, the government has offered no convincing answers to concerns about possible major negative effects on the environment and people’s lives. It is feared that in addition to causing noise and other nuisances to local residents, the runways of the envisioned base, which would extend over water from the U.S. military's existing Camp Schwab, would also have a serious impact on the marine ecosystem that nurtures dugong, a rare marine mammal designated by the government as a protected species, and a coral reef community.

If it wants to win the “understanding of the local communities,” the government needs to respond head-on to these concerns.

There has been growing support for Okinawa’s opposition to the base relocation plan among intellectuals and politicians overseas. American film director Oliver Stone, for instance, has issued a statement opposing the project.

In an effort to convince the U.S. public of the unfairness of the relocation plan, Inamine left for a trip to the United States on May 15.

On the same day, Abe announced that the administration will start considering a change of the government’s interpretation of the Constitution to make it possible for Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

Does this controversial initiative represent the nation to which Okinawa wanted so eagerly to return when it was occupied by the U.S. military and denied the benefits of the pacifist Constitution?

The stern-faced government that is forging ahead with the plan to relocate the base within the prefecture in the face of strong local opposition cannot embody the country to which Okinawa wanted to belong.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 17

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