The return of the land occupied by the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station should not be delayed any further. The planned relocation of the base to the Henoko district should be steadily advanced.
The government began maritime construction off the coast of the Henoko district in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, in preparations for landfill work. To begin, large-sized blocks are being sunk and will later be fixed to the seabed. Revetment work to encompass the planned reclamation area with dikes is slated to begin as early as this spring.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference that: “The government will pay as much consideration as possible to safety in the work, the natural environment and the daily lives of the local people.”
The Defense Ministry, the core entity in charge of the construction, is required to do its utmost in carrying out the work smoothly and effectively, in close cooperation with other ministries concerned, including the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Environment Ministry and the National Police Agency.
The Japanese and U.S. governments had agreed on the return of the Futenma base site to Japan as early as fiscal 2022. Yet the project lags behind schedule due to such factors as suspended work as a result of opposition from the Okinawa prefectural government.
Relocation to the Henoko district is the only realistic solution to the Futenma base issue. Any delay will mean that the current dangerous situation associated with the Futenma air base will continue that much longer.
As the Supreme Court handed down a decision last December that recognized as “illegal” the nullification by Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga of the approval for the landfill work needed for the relocation, it is reasonable for the central government to accelerate that work.
The government has formulated a policy of not reapplying to the Okinawa prefectural government for the permission to crush reefs, authorization that expires at the end of March. The government has concluded that it will not be necessary to reapply for permission, as a local fishermen’s cooperative association had waived its fishing right in neighboring waters. The government’s policy may also be intended to contain Onaga’s intended countermeasure of refusing to renew the permission.
Onaga should agree to landfill
Groups opposing the relocation are expected to conduct obstructive activities regarding the construction work. It is essential to control such activities appropriately in accordance with the law.
Reacting against the start of the construction work, Onaga said, “We cannot approve the start of the work. It must be suspended immediately.” Onaga is poised to block the relocation to the bitter end by considering the “withdrawal” of the plan on the grounds of changes in the situation, rather than “nullification” of the landfill work approval.
But in the settlement reached with the central government last March, the Okinawa prefectural government did pledge that it “will respond sincerely,” in accordance with the top court ruling [on the relocation case]. The central government suspended the work for nearly 10 months, fulfilling for its part the stipulations of the settlement. Onaga should agree to the landfill work.
If he withdraws the approval for landfill work, it would constitute an abuse of his authority as governor.
Onaga made a nearly one-week visit to the United States, starting at the end of last month, and met with members of the House of Representatives and U.S. government officials in charge, voicing his objections to the Henoko relocation. He praised the results of this latest visit to the United States, his third regarding the relocation issue, saying he “was able to hold flexible discussions.”
But Onaga’s U.S. visit ended fruitlessly, as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who visited Japan recently, made clear Washington’s policies, such as promoting the Henoko relocation.
As long as Onaga only advocates his “all-out opposition,” without presenting any alternative plans, he will not be able to gain any wide understanding from the United States for his assertions. Nor will he be able to fulfill his responsibility as governor.