How will the hazardous situation caused by the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station located in an urban area of Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, be resolved? The central government must carry out the necessary tasks while repeatedly holding dialogue with the Okinawa prefectural government.
The Defense Ministry has launched preparatory operations for reclamation work in the waters off the Henoko coastal area in the city of Nago, which is the relocation site of the Futenma base. Buoys to prevent entry into the work zone have been installed, an operation that creates an environment for land-filling.
Opposition groups have been conducting protest activities around the site. The central government is expected to proceed with the reclamation work while avoiding confusion and giving consideration to securing the safety of residents.
The resumption of work has been made possible because Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Keiichi Ishii approved the Defense Ministry’s claim and suspended the Okinawa prefectural government’s withdrawal of its approval for the land-filling work.
The approval was withdrawn with a political motive before the Okinawa gubernatorial election in September.
It was unavoidable that the central government created an environment to resume the work based on the Administrative Complaint Review Law. Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki’s criticism that “it is a staged and unjust decision” could be too much of a one-sided view.
The central government should carefully continue reinforcing its efforts to obtain understanding of the relocation work from the prefectural government led by Tamaki, which was formed after the gubernatorial election.
The prefectural government plans to file a petition with the Central and Local Government Dispute Management Council, a third-party organ that mediates disputes between national and local governments, to review the case. It is also eyeing a potential lawsuit.
Consider referendum carefully
In objecting to the suspension on executing its cancellation of the approval for reclamation work, the prefectural government filed a request with the same mediation panel three years ago. This was followed by its court battles with the central government.
There must be not a few Okinawa prefectural residents who do not agree with the methods adopted by the prefectural government so far. Tamaki is called on to consider corrective measures calmly without inflaming confrontation with the central government.
It has been pointed out that soft ground exists at the planned relocation site. If a design change is required, the approval of the governor will be required.
It is indispensable for the central government and the prefecture to persistently seek a point of agreement. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his relevant Cabinet ministers should maintain a stance of seeking a solution through dialogue. At the same time, it is essential for them to work toward reducing Okinawa’s burden of hosting U.S. military bases by holding consultative talks with the U.S. government, too.
Twenty-two years have passed since Tokyo and Washington agreed on the total return of the Futenma base’s land.
In Okinawa, incidents involving the U.S. military’s helicopters have happened one after another. Helicopter parts fell onto the ground near the Futenma base. The risk of accidents exists constantly. It is imperative to thoroughly realize the relocation.
The Okinawa prefectural government has promulgated an ordinance on a prefectural referendum over whether to approve the reclamation work off Henoko and is considering holding a vote by next spring.
There is concern that the referendum would lead to division among residents in the prefecture and a further delay in solving the issue of the Futenma base. Prudent judgment is called for on the part of the prefectural government.