(Okinawa Times: November 15, 2015 – p. 5)
In an interview with Kyodo News, Joel Ehrendreich, the U.S. consul general in Okinawa, said the following about the opinion of Okinawans who oppose the construction of a new base in Henoko, Nago City:
“It is a very important and serious issue, but it’s just one small part of the U.S. forces’ realignment in Japan that is aimed at reducing the impact on Okinawa and strengthening the alliance between the two countries.”
By “small part,” Mr. Ehrendreich clarified that he meant that [local opinion] is “one part of the relationship between the United States and Japan or between the United States and Okinawa.”
The issue of constructing a new base, which will impose a new burden on Okinawa, is a priority issue for the prefectural government and takes up a considerable amount of the governor’s time.
Is local opinion opposing [the base] really nothing more than a “small part”?
In December 1997, Nago residents voted in a referendum on constructing an offshore helicopter base, and 52.85% – more than half of voters – were opposed. Prefectural residents have repeatedly raised their voices in opposition to the construction plan at many large rallies. In January 2013, all the municipal mayors and assembly chairpersons in Okinawa submitted a joint petition to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe demanding that he disallow the stationing of Ospreys and abandon the plan to relocate the Futenma Air Station within the prefecture.
Last year, candidates “opposing the new base” were victorious in all five elections: the elections for Nago mayor, Nago assembly, Okinawa governor, prefectural assembly member from Nago, and the House of Representatives.
This is the opinion of Okinawa.
From Okinawa’s perspective, no one who disregards such clearly expressed political will by calling it a “small part” and who closes their eyes to a reality that they do not want to see can be called a diplomat of a democratic nation that values the will of the people.
Right after the Battle of Okinawa, Navy commander Watkins said, “The U.S. military government is the cat, and Okinawa is the mouse. The mouse is free only to the extent that the cat allows.” Okinawa under the U.S. military government was in fact a military colony.
The Futenma Air Station was constructed when Okinawa was in a “nonsovereign” position under occupation. Constructing a new base in disregard of local opinion is semi-permanently maintaining those vested rights by ignoring local opinion.
From the perspective of people who oppose the new base, the recent statement by the consul general seems like an “occupation mindset.” What lies beneath the surface is an unconscious “double standard.”
The U.S. military withdrew a plan to operate Ospreys in Hawaii because of the impact on historical ruins and opposition by the local people.
It is beyond appalling that [the United States] listens to its own people, but in Okinawa forces the stationing of the Futenma Air Station in the middle of a residential area, ignoring calls from every part of Okinawan society [to stop the project].
This is a double standard.
There are changes that Consul General Ehrendreich has failed to notice, however.
The members of Greenpeace, an NGO that visits sites of environmental destruction and informs the world about them, visited Henoko this month. SEALDs, the group of university students and others opposed to the security-related legislation, held rallies nationwide on Nov. 13 and 14 to oppose the new base. A new citizens’ movement is underway to distribute the burden of the U.S. military bases fairly by locating some bases on the mainland.
The worldwide spread of the local opinion against the new military base is in no way a “small part.”