政府と沖縄県 分断を埋める協議に

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 24
EDITORIAL: A more sincere attitude needed in new talks on Futenma issue
(社説)政府と沖縄県 分断を埋める協議に

The government and Okinawa Prefecture on March 23 started a fresh round of talks over the plan to relocate the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan, a crowded city in central Okinawa, to the Henoko district of Nago. The two sides held the first of a series of meetings in accordance with a court-mediated agreement they reached earlier in March to stop their legal battle over the plan.

The talks should be used to heal the bitter division between the two sides over the issue.

That requires both the Abe administration and the Okinawa prefectural government to offer sincere and straightforward answers to questions posed by the other side as part of serious efforts to find common ground.

Unfortunately, however, the first session ended without any sign of progress toward the goal.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga refused to budge on the government’s official position that building a new military facility in Henoko to replace the Futenma base is the “only solution.”

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga later said he had urged the administration to abandon this position and make sincere efforts to bring the negotiations forward.

What the administration needs to understand is that without solid support and cooperation from the local communities involved, a security architecture would inevitably stand on a fragile foundation.

Building a new base in Henoko without an agreement with the prefectural government could jeopardize stable operations of U.S. military bases in Okinawa. That could undermine the stability of Japan’s entire national security system.

The administration should use the new talks with the Okinawa government to work out specific steps to fulfill an important promise Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made to Onaga’s predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima.
At the end of 2013, Abe promised Nakaima, who approved land reclamation to build the base in Henoko, that operations of the Futenma air base would be terminated within five years.

Even if the relocation plan is implemented, the envisioned new base will be completed in fiscal 2022 at the earliest. The elimination of the danger posed by the Futenma base to the local communities must not be delayed until then.

The government has been taking measures to relocate part of the functions of the Futenma base to other places. It should expand the scope of these efforts and start seriously considering dispersing Futenma’s functions to locations outside the prefecture and outside Japan.

That requires the administration to hold talks not only with local governments in mainland Japan but also with the U.S. government. The administration should show it is committed to making every possible effort to solve the problem.

On March 23, the Abe administration proposed separate talks with Okinawa for an early return of half of the U.S. Marines jungle warfare training area in northern parts of Okinawa island.

The proposal to return a “major portion” of the training area was included in the final report of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO), released in 1996. But it has yet to be implemented.

The administration has a duty to reduce the burden on Okinawa, but this should not be linked to the Henoko issue.

To avoid creating unnecessary confusion within the local communities, the central government should carefully discuss the idea without trying to link the proposal to negotiations over the Henoko plan.

One move the administration made after the court-mediated agreement was reached on March 4 has raised questions about its posture toward the talks for settling the dispute.

Before the talks began, the administration instructed Onaga to repeal the nullification of his predecessor’s approval of land reclamation in Henoko.

Although the administration’s instruction was made according to the terms of the agreement, the move certainly does not signal a serious pursuit of a true settlement of the dispute.

The new talks should not be used to postpone the problem until a final court ruling on a new lawsuit over the issue is handed down.

The administration has a heavy responsibility for ensuring that the talks will finally bring an end to this conflict.

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