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POLITICS

Column: Memorial Day event highlights gap between Okinawa, Tokyo on base issues

  • 2015-06-24 15:00:00
  • , Yomiuri
  • Translation

(Yomiuri: June 24, 2015 – p. 3)

 

 By Michitaka Kaiya, political reporter; Masakazu Matsushita, city news reporter, Western Japan

 

 At the memorial service for all war dead in the Battle of Okinawa on June 23, Governor Takeshi Onaga delivered an unusual “peace declaration” in which opposed the government’s plan to relocate the U.S. forces’ Futenma Air Station to Henoko in Nago City. The government is poised to exert utmost efforts to reduce Okinawa’s base-hosting burden while maintaining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. alliance. Yet, there is no indication that the gap between the government and Onaga, who is adopting a confrontational stance, can be narrowed.

 

 When asked about the appropriateness of focusing on a highly divisive issue in the peace declaration after the ceremony, Onaga retorted: “In the sense that I expressed my strong feelings about the status quo in Okinawa 70 years after the war, I don’t think the language I used was radical.”

 

 According to a senior Okinawan official, the prefectural government began drafting the text of the declaration in April. Onaga personally revised the speech several times before coming up with the final draft.

 

 Onaga devoted half of the peace declaration to the political issue of Henoko relocation even though this speech is traditionally meant to mourn the deceased and renew the pledge for peace.

 

 While Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga merely said at his news conference on June 23 that “it is for the people of Japan and Okinawa” to judge the merit of the speech, a source at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence (Kantei) asserted that “it is unacceptable to turn the Okinawa Memorial Day into a political arena.”

 

 Six months after assuming office, Onaga is becoming increasingly aggressive in his efforts to stop Henoko relocation. While he is popular among the Okinawan people, there is also criticism of his “unscrupulous style.”

 

 Even with regard to the Henoko relocation plan, which Onaga is opposing, a panel consisting of representatives from the local districts near Henoko and the Tokyo government has just been launched to discuss economic development issues. Many local residents in Henoko are willing to accept relocation on condition of removing safety concerns and improving people’s lives.

 

 The government is poised to proceed with Henoko relocation even without Onaga’s cooperation. It plans to start construction work on the new facility this summer.

 

 Onaga is prepared to withdraw the approval for reclamation of waters off Henoko granted by the previous governor in an effort to obstruct construction work. It is highly possible that the dispute between Okinawa and Tokyo will develop into administrative litigation. Certain government officials welcome a court battle on the grounds that, “If the Supreme Court pronounces its verdict, Mr. Onaga and the relocation opponents around him will probably give up. It’s better to hand this issue over to the judiciary at an early date,” according to a Kantei source.

 

 However, the government’s tough stance has provoked strong reactions from Okinawa in the past. The security bills being deliberated in the current Diet session may also cast a dark shadow on the relocation process.

 

 The Defense Ministry’s start of construction work on the Henoko facility will coincide with the critical phase of Diet deliberations. It is possible that conflict between the ruling and opposition parties will reach its peak. Certain Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members have voiced the following concern: “With the administration expending its energy on Diet affairs management, a decline in support rating will be inevitable. Will it be able to plunge into construction work, which is certain to be opposed fiercely?” according to an LDP lawmaker specializing in defense issues.

 

 Suga stated at a news conference on June 23: “We will make every effort to make Okinawa understand the government’s great enthusiasm for reducing its base-hosting burden.” He stressed the government’s policy to exert utmost effort to win Okinawa’s understanding. (Abridged)

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