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Editorial: After referendum result, gov’t should give up on Okinawa base landfill

  • February 25, 2019
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

A majority of Okinawans voted “no” to landfill work in the Henoko district of Japan’s southernmost prefecture to relocate a U.S. military base within the prefecture. The central government should immediately halt the landfill work and sincerely discuss a solution with the Okinawa Prefectural Government.

The vote came in a Feb. 24 referendum on whether land reclamation work should go ahead off the coast of Henoko, in the prefectural city of Nago, to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which currently stands in the city of Ginowan in the prefecture.


The important task at hand, as the national government has correctly pointed out, is removing the danger posed by the Futenma base being located in a densely populated area. But if the government wants Okinawa Prefecture — where 70 percent of the land used exclusively by U.S. military facilities in Japan is concentrated — to host a replacement facility, then as a precondition, it must win understanding from a large number of prefectural residents.


The government has obviously been lacking in efforts to win understanding from prefectural residents. It did not turn an ear even after two gubernatorial elections in which residents voiced a “no” to the Henoko relocation plan.


The argument that diplomacy and security are matters over which the central government has sole jurisdiction and that regional areas should not interfere is misguided. There is no mistaking that they are fields in which the central government bears responsibility from a national perspective, but it is absurd to deny a local body hosting a military base the right to file any objections. And if a base is surrounded by antipathy from local residents, there is no way it will be able to operate smoothly.


The Abe administration has justified the landfill work based on approval for the relocation granted in 2013 by then Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima. But Nakaima was elected based on a pledge that he would relocate the base outside the prefecture — and only later changed his position. This means that the government never actually won public approval of the land reclamation.


A referendum is not a be-all-end-all way to determine government policy, with the actual turnout for the latest one remaining at a little over 50 percent. Nevertheless, we should consider how Okinawa has had to express its will time after time because democracy is not properly functioning.


In this process, it is important for prefectural residents to take an interest in each other’s differing opinions, and think together about the future of Okinawa. It is therefore regrettable that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner Komeito merely took the approach of having their members vote voluntarily, and abandoned their role of promoting debate with prefectural residents.


The government has expressed its intention to go ahead with the landfill work regardless of the outcome of the referendum. But it is simply making light of democracy to repeatedly ignore the public’s will.


Meanwhile, a large area of unstable soil has been found in the area targeted for landfill work, shaking the feasibility of building a large air station in the Henoko area.


It has now become extremely difficult, both politically and technically, to relocate the Futenma base to Henoko. What the government needs now is the ability to calmly accept the current situation.


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