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Editorial: Okinawa’s unreasonable base-hosting burden must be rectified

  • 2015-06-22 15:00:00
  • , Tokyo Shimbun
  • Translation

(Tokyo Shimbun: June 20, 2015 – p. 5)

 

 If the United States is a democratic nation, it should be able to understand Okinawa’s public opinion opposing the construction of a new U.S. military base. It is unreasonable that 74% of the U.S. Forces Japan bases are concentrated on a small island that has been forced to shoulder an excessive burden. Now is the time to rectify this situation.

 

 Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga held talks for the first time with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy on June 19 at the U.S. Embassy in Akasaka, Tokyo. Onaga’s purpose in holding the meeting with the Ambassador was to ask her to cancel the plan to build a U.S. military facility off the coast of the Henoko district in Nago City as an alternate facility for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station (in Ginowan City).

 

 Onaga viewed the results of elections in Okinawa as the basis of his request to the Ambassador to cancel the Henoko initiative.

 

 In Nago City, where the Futenma base is set to be relocated, residents opposing the Henoko initiative won both the mayoral election last November and the city council poll last September. Onaga, who is opposed to the relocation of the base within the prefecture, defeated the incumbent in the gubernatorial race last November.

 

 In the House of Representatives election in December, although the ruling Liberal Democratic Party won nationwide, the party’s candidates were defeated by those opposing the Henoko initiative in the four single-seat constituencies in Okinawa.

 

 Onaga’s assertion that it is the popular will of the Okinawan people “to oppose the construction of a U.S. base in Henoko” makes sense.

 

 However, the Japanese and U.S. governments have given no heed to Okinawa’s public opinion. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who concurrently serves as minister in charge of alleviating the burden of the bases in Okinawa, had initially avoided meetings with Onaga and have taken a hard line on the Henoko initiative.

 

 In the meeting with Onaga, Ambassador Kennedy reportedly stressed that the governments of Japan and the U.S. “share an unwavering commitment” to the construction of a new airfield in Henoko, and said, “It is the only solution to avoid the continued use of the Futenma airfield.”

 

 If Japan and the U.S. share the fundamental value called democracy, they should not blatantly ignore the popular will of the Okinawan people expressed in the elections.

 

 Tokyo and Washington must seriously consider the reasons why the people of Okinawa have refused to accept the construction of a new U.S. base in the Henoko district.

 

 An excessive burden has been imposed on the people of Okinawa, a small island prefecture that accounts for less than one percent of the total land area of Japan but has 74% of the USFJ bases concentrated on it. They have suffered psychological stress due to accidents and noise caused by training exercises as well as accidents and crimes committed by U.S. service members. Above all, they will be the first ones targeted in an attack.

 

 The results of the elections are a cry of anguish from the Okinawan people that the relocation of the base within the prefecture is merely an expedient measure that will not fundamentally reduce Okinawa’s burden.

 

 Ambassador Kennedy is also reportedly a lawyer who works on human rights. We hope she will come to terms with the reality of Okinawa and rectify the present situation. What is being put to the test is democracy.

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