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Ask U.S. Congress to reconsider Henoko relocation plan

  • March 5, 2020
  • , Okinawa Times , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

By Sumiyo Henna, U.S. special correspondent


With regard to the decision made by the U.S. and Japanese governments to transfer the U.S. military’s Futenma airbase to Henoko in Nagono City, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged that the plan has been deeply criticized from both the environmental and human rights perspectives and that such criticism will continue.


Schumer made this comment in response to an email sent by Maria Shimabukuro, an associate professor at New York University, who resides in Schumer’s electoral district. Shimabukuro’s email requested the discontinuation of the plan to build a new base. The words of support from one of the most senior members of the U.S. Congress give us hope at a time when many in Congress are rallying around the two governments’ “Henoko only” proposal.


In his congressional career, Schumer has been involved extensively in economic issues and played leadership roles within the Democratic Party. Although he has not been directly involved in the Okinawa base issues, Schumer was close to President Obama and was stunned to hear that the Japanese prime minister had resigned to take responsibility for the issue of the aging U.S. Marine base. Since then, Schumer apparently took an interest in the Futenma relocation issue.


About a year after the Japanese prime minister’s abrupt resignation, then-Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin (Democrat), then-Ranking Member John McCain (Republican), and then-Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee’ Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs Jim Webb (Democrat) requested the U.S. Defense Department to abandon the Henoko relocation plan. The three also proposed an alternative plan that involved distributing portions of the troops and facilities at Kadena base to other bases in Japan and Guam, and then moving the helicopters stationed at Futenma to Kadena.


The proposal signified a rejection by prominent lawmakers who exerted influence over national defense and military issues of the two governments’ premise that “Henoko is the only option.” The senators concluded that the government plan at the time was “unrealistic, unworkable, and unaffordable.”


Since then, Senators Levin and Webb have left Washington. Senator McCain passed away after changing his position and supporting the Henoko relocation plan following Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima’s approval of the Henoko landfill work.


Now there is no trace of congressional opposition to the Henoko relocation plan in Washington, D.C.


But there are still powerful senators like Schumer in Congress who enjoyed close ties with Levin and McCain and have knowledge of their opposition that once cornered the Defense Department.


Today, on a spring-like day in Washington D.C., preparations for the next presidential election are well underway.


Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe has announced that his committee will discuss and formulate the outline of the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act by mid-May, ahead of schedule, in order to avoid having to deliberate until the end of the year.


In Okinawa, the issue of Oura Bay’s soft seabed that has recently emerged is presenting a new obstacle, so the claim of past lawmakers that the plan is “unworkable” seems to ring truer than ever.


Governor Denny Tamaki, who is opposed to Henoko relocation, should collaborate with U.S. lawmakers like Schumer who have shown understanding for this view, while pursuing all possible approaches, including pursuing the matter of the defense authorization act before the end of March. It is equally important for Americans who live in the U.S. and support Okinawa’s cause to put pressure on Congress.


McCain once told us that he was opposed to the Henoko relocation plan because it was not in the U.S. national interest. We should ask Congress to reconsider the Henoko issue. U.S. lawmakers have a responsibility to take a second look at whether the concerns presented by Levin and others have truly been resolved.

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