(Themis: November 2015 – p. 42-43)
Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga argues that his opposition to the relocation of a U.S. base facility to Henoko is the “consensus of the Okinawan people,” but the truth is that he is merely representing the interests of those who have long held the reins of power in the island prefecture.
A national daily newspaper reporter covering Okinawa issues is displaying concern that the rift among the Okinawan people over the base issues has sharpened. Onaga claims that he devotes “80% of his time in office to handling the base issues,” leaving him little time to think about the crisis facing the prefecture.
Yoshiyuki Toita, a member of the Ishigaki assembly, took umbrage with Onaga’s international appeal for support to suspend the Henoko plan. The governor took the podium at a U.N. Human Rights Council session in late September and stressed the illegitimacy of the Henoko plan. “The base issue is a domestic affair,” said Toita. “It is a shame for the prefecture to see the governor raise the domestic issue at the U.N. Those who supported Onaga are working closely with the press to pull Okinawa in a direction that the prefecture has never imagined.”
“Onaga hails from a political elite family,” said Akira Shinonara, an expert on Okinawan affairs. “His father was a former mayor of Mawashi village and his elder brother served as deputy governor at the Okinawa prefectural office. He knows the ins and outs of the Okinawa politics.”
In Okinawa, reformists oppose hosting U.S. military bases, while conservatives take advantage of this to win more money for regional revitalization from state coffers. Onaga has tried to ramp up this structure. To win over reformists in the gubernatorial race, he opposed the Henoko plan and prolonged [the resolution of] base issues. Advocating for Okinawa independence and opposing landfill work at Henoko are merely part of his political scheme. “They came out of his strategy to maintain the conventional vested-interest and power structures,” said Shinohara.
What Onaga calls the “voice of Okinawa” represents local government employees, labor unions, University of Ryukyu alumni, and local newspaper outlets, such as the Okinawa Times and the Ryukyu Shimpo. They have been making their case for their own benefit.
Okinawa faces serious economic disparity in society. The government has plowed more than 11 trillion yen for local promotion, but these funds have been eaten up by Onaga’s vested-interest groups. The wealthy, meanwhile, are demanding that income generated by leasing land for military use be maintained.
As a representative of his vested-interest forces, Onaga will continue to call for Okinawa’s independence and oppose hosting U.S. bases. He will run amok to win more revitalization funds from the central government. This will complicate the base issues facing Okinawa further and make the prefecture more dependent on government subsidies. (Summary)