(Yomiuri: November 6, 2015 – p. 4)
Tetsuo Kotani, Senior Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs
The government should move forward with the relocation of the U.S. military Futenma Air Station to Henoko in Nago City because this will lead to removing the danger of the airfield, which is the largest objective. A court battle with the Okinawa Prefectural Government is unavoidable.
The government should place the greatest weight on listening to the voices of people who live near Futenma airfield and in Henoko in order to meet their expectations. They will be directly impacted by the relocation. It is also important to come up with a concrete plan for the suspension of operations at Futenma airfield, which will become due in February 2019. It is realistic to minimize the time lag between the suspension and the relocation. The administration has to share a common understanding with the prefectural government and then negotiate with the U.S.
The government has explained that “the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa is the basis of deterrence.” That is incorrect. The U.S. military’s overall capability including nuclear weapons functions as deterrence. The Marine Corps is part of that deterrence. The administration should explain. Because the Marine Corps is the most suitable unit for responding to a contingency, their presence in the western Pacific with Okinawa as their base leads to reliable deterrence.
In the event of a contingency in Taiwan or the Korean Peninsula, bases in Okinawa will receive support units. It is desirable to have the base close to a frontline for transporting weapons and troops between. With China’s maritime advancement, the defense of the Southwest Islands will be important. The Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military need to discuss various subjects such as joint use of facilities on the islands.
Liberal elements in Okinawa are skeptical of Governor Takeshi Onaga, who calls himself as a conservative politician but cooperates with the communist party. By the next gubernatorial election scheduled three years later, a schism between the governor and communists will have emerged.
Kurayoshi Takara, professor emeritus at University of the Ryukyus
Since the gubernatorial election in November last year, Governor Takeshi Onaga has said in public that he will obstruct the relocation of the U.S. military Futenma Air Station to Henoko in Nago City. However, after he became governor, it took him 10 months to nullify the approval of landfill work in the Henoko coastal region. This shows the difficulty of revoking the national government’s measures based on laws. I was a deputy governor when the reclamation was approved. I remember that the prefectural government personnel meticulously inspected the national government’s procedures day and night. Now the matter is left to a court’s objective judgment, but I doubt that there were faults in the approval procedures.
Onaga focuses only on the Henoko relocation among Okinawa’s base issues, which makes it difficult to understand how he will handle the base issues as a whole. As the governor, he should present an action plan for solving all base issues. At various places in the prefecture, people have the impression that specific measures [by the prefectural government] to reduce the base burden are not formulated, or Okinawa’s stance toward both the Japanese and the U.S. government is unclear.
The Onaga prefectural administration was born as a result of the convergence of political groups with different security views. This makes it difficult to discuss particular base issues in detail among those groups, because, if they do, various differences will emerge. A prefectural governor is not a leader of civic campaigns. One of a governor’s responsibilities is to make decisions from a long term perspective by hearing various opinions.
The starting point of Okinawa’s base issues is to decide measures for removing the danger of the Futenma airfield as soon as possible. At the same time, there must be a visible reduction in bases. The responsibility to break the deadlock lies both with the national and the prefectural governments. It is necessary to establish a working group to put basic points of argument in order. Responsible negotiations are needed to find a solution.(Slightly Abridged)