Editorial: Japanese government’s move to reclaim land in Okinawa for U.S. military base disregards the people’s will

How long will the Japanese government continue to ignore the will of the people of Okinawa and persist in using heavy-handed tactics?

On March 22, the central government submitted an application to Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima for permission to reclaim land off Henoko, Nago City for the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, currently located in the city of Ginowan.

The application was delivered only five minutes before the governor received a phone call concerning the matter. This abrupt move may have been made to avoid confusion, but it raises questions about the forcible manner that was displayed, as if tramping right over the feelings of those who are opposed to the relocation plan.

Expressing his displeasure, Governor Nakaima said, “Relocating the Futenma base within the prefecture is virtually impossible.” The governor’s reaction is only natural.

The central government does not listen to the voice of the local people nor does it provide adequate explanations for its actions. Government officials may argue that they are simply following established policy, but their approach will only aggravate the situation. Instead, they should get the local communities involved and together seek a radical solution to the problem.

The will of the local people is imbued in a petition which calls for the closure and removal of the Air Station Futenma and for abandoning the plan to relocate the base within Okinawa Prefecture. The petition was signed by the prefectural assembly chairperson as well as the mayors and chairpersons of the assemblies of all 41 municipalities of the prefecture before it was delivered to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

This petition concerns the situation surrounding the Osprey transport aircraft deployed at the Air Station Futenma. The aircraft, which is capable of making vertical takeoffs and landings, has been carrying out flights which violate the safety agreement between Japan and the United States. The petition is sharply worded, stating, “The U.S. military has been behaving in an arrogant fashion, as if Okinawa was still its occupied territory. The very nature of Japan, which advocates the sovereignty of its people, is called into question.”

Mr. Abe and his ministers in charge of this issue have said repeatedly that, while moving forward with the relocation plan to Henoko, the understanding of the local people should be emphasized. In reality, though, they are doing the exact opposite. The petition is thus a censure of the Abe administration.

What has exasperated the Okinawan people even more is the announcement that Japan will soon observe “the day the nation recovered its sovereignty.” The cabinet has recently decided that the central government will sponsor a commemoration ceremony to celebrate the effectuation of the San Francisco Peace Treaty on April 28. But for the local people, the observance is nothing but “a day of humiliation” because Okinawa has remained under the thumb of the U.S. military despite the treaty taking effect on that day in 1952.

In February, Prime Minister Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama held a meeting and agreed that the relocation plan should proceed promptly. For Mr. Abe, the government’s application to reclaim the land is obviously an important step toward fulfilling his promise. But the Okinawan people must feel that this move is an indication that they will be forced to continue shouldering the burden of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

The central government has resumed the work of its Okinawa Policy Council, which explores measures for promoting the economic growth of Okinawa prefecture. If this effort is aimed at winning over the local prefecture, the government is completely missing the mark.

It is very clear that the Air Station Futenma should not be a permanent facility. But if the government obstinately sticks to the Henoko relocation plan, consensus will not be achieved. In fact, its actions will increase the public’s distrust of the government.

This month, the Osprey began flying from the Futenma base to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and training flights have been conducted over the Shikoku region and other locales. The government may maintain that these moves are part of its efforts to reduce Okinawa’s burden, but they clearly reflect the Japanese government’s submissive attitude toward the U.S. military.

Some U.S. experts now suggest that the Osprey aircraft be withdrawn from Okinawa. This is not only due to political calculations resulting from the impasse over the Henoko relocation plan. They point out that the military impact of the Osprey, with its remarkable capability, would not be lessened even if the aircraft was moved to Guam or another location.

We must reconsider the meaning of a nation whose sovereignty rests with the people, as written in the petition from Okinawa. If we are a nation firmly based on the popular will, the answer will come on its own. There is no other choice but to seriously consider relocating the Air Station Futenma out of this country.

(Originally published on March 24, 2013)