The latest move in Okinawa Prefecture seems to disturb longstanding efforts to reduce the burden that results from the presence of U.S. bases there. It is vital to look squarely at the danger of seeking the judgment of the people on national security policy through a prefectural referendum.
At issue is the latest prefectural referendum on a matter related to the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in the city of Ginowan to the Henoko area of Nago. Seventy-one percent of voters opposed the ongoing land reclamation work.
Votes against the landfill work exceeded more than one-fourth of all people eligible to cast ballots. Based on a prefectural ordinance, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki will soon convey the results of the referendum to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump.
“The government should discontinue the work, accepting the people’s view that the reclamation activities should be disapproved,” Tamaki said.
To begin with, the establishment of the ordinance was promoted by people and groups in support of Tamaki. Obviously, the move was aimed at reinforcing their unity in preparation for April’s by-election for a House of Representatives seat in Okinawa Constituency No. 3 and a House of Councillors election in summer.
Decisions about locations for the transfer of U.S. military facilities in the prefecture must inevitably be based on comprehensive considerations for Japan’s security environment, the realities regarding the operation of U.S. armed forces and reductions in the burden of the presence of their bases there. The national government bears responsibility for accomplishing such tasks, even if doing so may take time. Such issues are not suited for seeking the judgment of the people through a prefectural referendum.
Britain has fallen into great turmoil as a result of its national referendum over whether it should exit the European Union.
National administration-related problems, in which the interests involved are complicated, should not be left to the direct judgment of voters. They should be committed to the judgment of Diet members, who are elected through national elections.
Seek realistic solutions
If Tamaki confronts the national government by using the legally non-binding results of the prefectural referendum as a shield for his position, it would leave no room for compromise, only resulting in more profound antagonism between the two sides.
Such a situation means no attention will be paid to the wishes of local residents to place priority on reducing the possible danger of base-related accidents and noise pollution. It would be even more difficult to make progress in addressing the U.S.-bases issue.
The governor must be described as irresponsible, given his continued objections to the base transfer to Henoko despite having no alternative.
What is important is to steadily realize the return and reduction of U.S. bases, in light of the reality that 70 percent of U.S. facilities nationwide are concentrated in Okinawa Prefecture, the size of which accounts for a mere 0.6 percent of our national land. The governor should abandon political motives and seek realistic ways to reduce the base-related burden.
“Since the Japan-U.S. agreement on Futenma’s full-scale return, [the goal] has not yet been achieved after more than 20 years. It cannot be postponed any longer,” the prime minister told reporters.
The relocation plan would expand the U.S. military’s Camp Schwab in Nago to build offshore runways for helicopters and transport planes. Flight routes for these aircraft would be mainly above the ocean. This would lessen the danger involved remarkably, compared with the air base in Futenma, which is surrounded by schools and houses.
The central government needs to promote dialogue with the prefectural government, thereby tenaciously promoting the significance of the relocation plan to the local government.