On July 22, when the Okinawa Defense Bureau began construction of helipads in the U.S. forces’ Northern Training Area, Governor Takeshi Onaga told reporters that “(proceeding with the construction arbitrarily) is absolutely unacceptable,” criticizing the government’s high-handedness. However, the governor has never clearly expressed his “opposition” to the construction project per se.
The reason the governor cannot openly oppose the project is that this is the condition for the return of more than half of the Northern Training Area under the SACO (Special Action Committee on Okinawa) final report. The governor’s job is to consolidate and reduce the U.S. bases in accordance with the SACO agreement. A senior Okinawa official outlines Onaga’s dilemma: “He is not able to oppose downright a policy that will reduce the bases. On the other hand, he cannot support the helipad construction unconditionally since this will mean a new burden.”
Under the circumstances, Onaga can only say that the government’s high-handedness is “unacceptable” and that the SACO agreement did not envision the deployment of the Ospreys.
The ruling parties are dissatisfied with the Onaga administration’s failure to take a clear stand, asserting its position is “inscrutable.” The ruling party floor groups in the prefectural assembly had demanded that the governor lodge a protest with the Tokyo government after the construction work started, but Vice Governor Mitsuo Ageda, who met with them, would only say that the administration will come up with a response. (Slightly abridged)