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Gov. Tamaki sends first-ever letter to U.S. gov’t calling for “halt of operation of Futenma”

Okinawa Prefectural Governor Denny Tamaki recently sent a letter to the U.S. government in which he called for operation of the U.S. military’s Futenma Air Station to be halted at an early date. The Japanese government promised the prefecture that “operation of Futenma would be ended within five years,” and the deadline came in February this year. With this, the governor once again demanded an early halt of operations in light of the results of a prefectural referendum where over 70% of those Okinawa residents who voted said they are opposed the landfill work being conducted in conjunction with the construction of a base in the Henoko district of Nago City. Tamaki also emphasized that the relocation to Henoko is not linked to the early return of Futenma.


According to the Okinawa Prefectural Government, this is the first time for an Okinawa governor to directly send a letter to the U.S. government seeking the halt of operations at Futenma. The letter was sent on May 24 and publicly announced on May 27. Governor Tamaki commented: “I would like to see the U.S. government take the sentiment of the people of Okinawa into serious consideration and endeavor to remove the dangers posed by the facility as soon as possible, including ceasing operation of Futenma at an early date.”


The letter was addressed to four people: U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty; Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, the USFJ Commander; U.S. Consul General to Naha Robert Koepcke; and Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, the Okinawa Area Coordinator. In the letter, Gov. Tamaki asks that the letter “be delivered to U.S. President Donald Trump.” The Okinawa Government official in charge of this matter said, “We wrote the letter in a way that the United States will understand from their own perspective that there are problems with the new base for them as well.”


After describing the current situation in which the burden of the U.S. military bases is concentrated in Okinawa, the letter emphasizes the dangers posed by the Futenma Air Station, citing the helicopter crash at Okinawa International University, which is located near the Futenma Air Station, and the incident in which the window of a U.S. military helicopter fell on the grounds of the Futenma Daini Elementary School. The letter also explained that the population density of Ginowan City, which hosts Futenma, is “on a par” with that of Chicago.


The letter also said that over 70% of Okinawa voters who cast a ballot in the recent prefectural referendum said that they are opposed to the landfill work being done in conjunction with the relocation of Futenma to the Henoko district of Nago City. The letter pointed out that “we cannot anticipate that the new base will be completed” because soft seabed has been identified [in the area where the new base is being constructed]. Pointing out that there is a chance that there will be land subsidence, collapse of seawalls, and liquefaction after the base is completed, the letter said that “it is possible that the facility would no longer be usable as a military base if an earthquake were to occur. There is the risk, therefore, that the base could compromise the Marines’ quick response capability.”


Gist of the letter


I would like to express my appreciation for your nation’s tremendous effort to maintain the security of Japan and the peace and stability of East Asia. The Okinawa Prefectural Government recognizes [the importance of] the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements, but we find it inappropriate and impermissible that over 70% of the facilities exclusively used by the U.S. Forces in Japan are located in our prefecture, which makes up about 0.6% of the land area of Japan. Many accidents and incidents have happened in the area surrounding the Futenma Air Station, and this makes the area residents afraid for their lives and property. Okinawa Prefecture has long requested that the Air Station be closed and the land returned. We have doubts, however, that your nation is making sincere efforts because it not only has failed to halt operation of the facility but is conducting at Futenma exercises with aircraft stationed at other bases.


In a prefectural referendum, about 72% of those who voted cast ballots indicating that they are opposed to the landfill work in Henoko. Despite this, the Japanese government is pushing forward with the relocation. The prefectural government does not anticipate that the new base will be completed because soft seabed has been identified in the area where the base is to be constructed. Even if the base were completed, dangers would arise as land subsistence continued. If an earthquake were to strike, there is a chance that it would compromise the Marines’ quick response capability due to liquefaction and collapse or damage to seawalls.


You may think that it would be acceptable to continue to use the Futenma Air Station if relocation is impossible, but it remains a fact that Futenma Air Station is regarded as “the most dangerous in the world.” If Futenma were to continue to be used and this were to lead to a movement against all the U.S. bases in Japan or to an anti-America movement, it could have a large impact on the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements and the Japan-U.S. alliance, including the use of such facilities as the Kadena Base and White Beach. It would be wise to relocate the exercises held at Futenma and the aircraft stationed there to other facilities in Japan or overseas.


With its Navy and Air Force, the United States has the capacity to handle China and North Korea, and I am confident that the “great America” that President Trump is restoring will make the wise choice to not only halt operation of Futenma Air Station but to relocate it outside Okinawa Prefecture or outside Japan. I request that you endeavor to halt operation of the Futenma Air Station and that you deliver this letter to President Trump.

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