(Okinawa Times: June 20, 2015 – p. 5)
Governor Takeshi Onaga met with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy for the first time after assuming office at the U.S. Embassy. He conveyed his opposition to the construction of a new military base in Henoko, Nago City, and sought her understanding.
Onaga cited the fact that all candidates opposed to Henoko relocation won in the Nago mayoral election, the gubernatorial election, and the House of Representatives election last year and told her that “the popular will in Okinawa is that no military base should be built in Henoko.” He also asked that Okinawan officials be allowed to conduct on-site inspections in the provisional off-limits area off Henoko.
The meeting was held for 40 minutes behind closed doors. According to Onaga, Kennedy gave no concrete responses to these points.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy announced right after the meeting that Kennedy “indicated that (Henoko relocation) is the only solution.”
Onaga had requested to meet with Kennedy before his recent trip to the U.S. Why was their meeting held at this time? Why the discrepancy between the two sides? What the Okinawan people would like to know is what Kennedy thinks about construction of the new base.
What does Kennedy, who is supposedly a liberal who values environmental conservation and human rights, think of the reclamation of waters off Henoko with its great biodiversity? We also want to hear her thoughts about the fact that the construction of the new base is being pushed through in total disregard of the popular will, which is the very essence of democracy.
We, including Onaga, would like to know. The discrepancy between the prefectural government and the U.S. Embassy on what Kennedy said should not be left unexplained and the truth should be clarified.
According to Onaga, when he told Kennedy that the security burden should be borne by all Japanese people, Kennedy said: “We are grateful for Okinawa’s contribution to the Japan-U.S. alliance. Japan and the U.S. should work together in moving forward because the presence of U.S. Forces Japan is important.”
However, the Embassy’s press release says: “Ambassador Kennedy emphasized that the governments of the United States and Japan share an unwavering commitment to the construction of the airfield at Camp Schwab. She reiterated that this is the only solution to avoid the continued use of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma."
Regarding the Embassy’s press release, Onaga said that, “I did not hear the words ‘Schwab’ or ‘only solution’.” Onaga also indicated displeasure with Kennedy, observing that, “She seemed to be reading from her notes, and she said exactly the same thing as Washington.” In other words, the U.S. government is wary that Onaga may arouse public opinion.
Apparently, Kennedy told Onaga at their meeting that she will attend the Okinawa Memorial Day ceremony on June 23 to honor all war dead in the Battle of Okinawa. The prefectural government is planning to include a passage in the “peace declaration” to be delivered by the governor at the ceremony to demand the suspension of the government’s work on Henoko relocation.
When Kennedy made her first visit to Okinawa in February last year, she had an unscheduled one-on-one meeting with Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine. She heard the mayor’s opinion on Henoko relocation first-hand. We hope that she will meet with Onaga again during her upcoming trip to Okinawa. She should convey to the Okinawan people her opinion on the construction of a new military base in Henoko.