With regard to the bilateral agreement between the Japanese and the U.S. governments on returning half of the land occupied by the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area (NTA) on the main island of Okinawa, a U.S. government official vented his anger on his Japanese counterpart by saying, “I can’t understand what the Okinawa prefectural government is thinking.” The official was angry about the Okinawa government’s “duplicity,” which has become a notorious characteristic of the prefecture. While the Okinawa government had called for returning the area, it has been overlooking local residents’ physical protests against the construction necessary for the return.
The return of the area was bilaterally agreed on in 1996 based on the Okinawa government’s request. Twenty years have passed since the agreement was made. The two countries agreed that about 4,000 hectares of land, half of the entire NTA, would be returned to Japan, on condition that the helipads are relocated to the remaining training area. In response to strong pressure from the U.S., the Japanese government began transporting construction materials to the site for the helipad construction as soon as the last Upper House election was over.
Okinawa Prefectural Governor Takeshi Onaga began criticizing the move again at a press conference by saying, “Starting the construction will seriously diminish the relationship of trust between the central and Okinawa governments and is totally unacceptable.” Opponents physically obstructed the construction work by parking vehicles on the street in front of the gate. Although the street is a prefectural road, the Okinawa government failed to address the issue. This means the Okinawa government has knowingly overlooked the opponents’ resistance.