/

Nago base rebuff heaps more pressure on Nakaima

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

With two months to go until its mayoral election, the Okinawa city of Nago said Tuesday it will formally request Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima not to approve an application to start dumping land into the sea off its Henoko coast for the planned replacement base for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

The decision, expected to be formally approved by the municipal assembly later this week, was made after Nago canvassed residents for their views, receiving about 2,500 responses.

Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine’s announcement puts increased pressure on Nakaima, who must soon decide whether to approve the central government’s application to begin depositing soil for runway construction at Henoko for the Futenma replacement facility.

Inamine has long opposed the Henoko airstrip plan, and the majority of Nago assembly members are also against it. However, Inamine faces re-election on Jan. 19, and is up against two challengers who favor the plan.

Liberal Democratic Party prefectural assembly member Bunshin Suematsu announced last month he would run against Inamine. On Tuesday, he told reporters that he hoped Nakaima would grant approval for the runway work, and suggested that if this happened, he’d favor the Henoko plan. Nakaima has already announced his support for Suematsu.

“It would be difficult to imagine the governor not approving the project,” Suematsu said.

The other candidate is former Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuo, who lost to Inamine in the last election. Shimabukuo dismayed members of Okinawa’s political and business worlds who support the Henoko base plan, not to mention the central government, when he announced his candidacy just a few weeks ago. They worry he will split the vote and hand victory again to Inamine.

As a result, pressure on Nakaima to make an announcement before the Nago mayoral election is increasing. Yukikazu Kokuba, the head of Okinawa’s largest general contractor, Kokuba Gumi, led a group of pro-Henoko Okinawan business leaders to Tokyo Tuesday, where he met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in an effort to put pressure on Nakaima.

Kokuba told Abe and Suga that a dozen Okinawan business groups planned to offer a formal statement of support for the Henoko plan on Nov. 25. He later said there was no other practical option for replacing Futenma, which is in the densely populated Okinawa city of Ginowan, and urged Nakaima to support it.

Other pro-Henoko business groups in Okinawa’s service industry hope that, in return for Okinawa agreeing to the new base, the Diet will legalize casinos next year and eventually approve a casino resort area for Okinawa.