It is important for the government to move ahead steadily with the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to the Henoko district in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, while giving the greatest consideration to the wishes of local communities.
In the mayoral election in Nago, first-time candidate Taketoyo Toguchi — a former member of the Nago city assembly who was backed by the Liberal Democratic Party, which approves of the relocation — won the race by defeating incumbent Susumu Inamine, who had the full support of Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who opposes the relocation.
Following the election result, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, “We want to proceed [with the relocation plan] while obtaining the understanding of citizens.”
The relocation of Futenma Air Station, which is located in a densely populated area, to the Henoko district is the only realistic solution that would make it possible to both eliminate the dangers posed by the air station and maintain the deterrent power provided by U.S. forces. To realize a smooth move, base relocation work should be accelerated.
Although it allowed its party supporters to vote at their own discretion in the previous mayoral election, this time Komeito endorsed Toguchi. The central government and the ruling camp waged an all-out battle, sending Cabinet members and senior party officials to the city day after day, and defeated Inamine by a margin of about 3,500 votes.
During the election campaign, Toguchi did not refer to whether he opposes or approves of the relocation but instead emphasized invigoration of the local economy. As the Nago city government under Inamine took such actions as refusing to accept a grant given to a local government that bears burdens to host U.S. bases amid the reorganization of U.S. forces in Japan, the local economy has been sluggish. Those who want a break from the status quo cast their votes for Toguchi.
Pay heed to environment
Nago mayoral candidates who approve of the relocation won the race three times in a row from 1998. As the administration, inaugurated in 2009, of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of the Democratic Party of Japan irresponsibly advocated the relocation of the base outside the prefecture, it invited conflict among conservatives, leading to the victory of Inamine in the 2010 mayoral election.
The latest development should help end the disarray related to the relocation issue.
The central government is proceeding all-out with seawall construction that will fence a zone to be reclaimed at the Henoko coastal area. As early as this summer, it plans to start injecting earth and sand. The government aims to complete the relocation work sometime in fiscal 2022 or later.
The government needs to scrupulously explain to the local municipalities concerned and local residents the significance of the relocation, the procedures for related work and so forth, while at the same time implementing carefully thought-out measures related to noise and the environment.
There has been a series of incidents in Okinawa involving U.S. aircraft, such as U.S. military aircraft parts falling into the grounds of an elementary school near the Futenma Air Station.
Even though these events have occurred against a backdrop of intensifying military exercises to deal with the escalation in the North Korean situation, ensuring the safety of local residents is the highest-priority issue. The government needs to continue calling on the U.S. government to take thorough measures to prevent similar incidents from occurring.
Regarding the outcome of the latest election, Onaga only told reporters, “It was quite regrettable that we failed to win [the public’s] understanding.” He has not yet relaxed his stance of fighting to the bitter end to oppose the relocation.
With Inamine as mayor, Onaga had assumed that public opinion was against the relocation, an assumption that served as the basis of his maintaining a confrontational stance against the central government. The outcome of the latest election may also affect the fate of the gubernatorial election slated for this autumn.