NAHA – Two major Okinawan newspapers have urged U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy to acknowledge local opposition to the relocation of a U.S. base, as well as the threat the move poses to endangered dugongs, following her recent statement expressing concern for the welfare of dolphins.
The Okinawa Times and The Ryukyu Shimpo directly addressed the ambassador in their editorials published in Japanese and English, welcoming her on her first visit to the island prefecture, which began Tuesday.
“The people of Okinawa have a desire to share the universal values of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights with the Americans,” The Ryukyu Shimpo said. “Does the U.S. government respect democracy in Okinawa?” the Japanese version added.
The Okinawa Times noted that nearly 70 percent of Okinawans expressed opposition to the relocation within the prefecture of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to the Henoko coastal area in the city of Nago in a survey conducted at the end of last year.
The paper urged Kennedy to meet Susumu Inamine, the mayor of Nago and an opponent of the relocation, who was re-elected in late January after beating a candidate who had backed the move.
The Ryukyu Shimpo said: “Okinawan people are concerned that the human rights, life and property of residents living in the northern region, will forever be compromised as they will be exposed to noise pollution and the risk of an accident.”
Both newspapers referred to a message Kennedy had posted on Twitter in January that was critical of the dolphin hunt in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, and compared the situation to waters around Henoko, home to the endangered dugongs.
“You expressed that you were deeply concerned by the inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing,” the Ryukyu Shinpo said. “Then is it not inhumane to pose a threat to the habitat of the dugongs by destroying their feeding grounds?”
The Okinawa Times also cited the threat to the aquatic mammal if its habitat is reclaimed for the relocation project.
The two papers last published English editorials in November 2009, when U.S. President Barack Obama visited Japan.
On Tuesday, the New Wave to Hope, a local civic group made up mainly of youths, held a rally outside the prefectural government to oppose the base relocation plan, drawing about 200 people.
Participants waved placards addressed to Kennedy in both English and Japanese, expressing opposition to bases in Okinawa and the reclamation plans for Henoko.
Wakana Toguchi, 12, an elementary school student from Nago, read out a letter she sent to Kennedy at the end of last year.
“If the military base will be built, the dugongs will be extinct and the rich nature will be destroyed,” she said.