Futenma issue in impasse

Confusion surrounded the submission to the Okinawa prefectural government of an official document related to the Japan-U.S. plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the densely populated Ginowan to the less populated Henoko in Nago, both on Okinawa Island. This indicates that the relocation has almost no prospect of being carried out and that a completely new approach is needed.

The Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau on Dec. 27 tried to have a delivery firm transport a report of environmental impact assessment for the relocation plan to the Okinawa prefectural government. Since protesters surrounded vehicles of the firm and stopped them, the bureau changed its plan. Shortly after 4 a.m. the next day, the vehicles arrived at a side gate of the prefectural government and bureau workers brought in boxes of the report amounting to some 7,000 pages.

The environmental impact assessment is legally required because land must be reclaimed from the sea for the Henoko facility construction. After the assessment procedure is completed, Tokyo will ask Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima for permission to reclaim the land.

Tokyo’s act was solely for saving face. It had promised to the United States to submit the environmental impact assessment report by the end of 2011. Although there were protest activities, it is unusual that no high-ranking defense officials went to the prefectural government to hand over the report.

It is understandable that Okinawan people describe as “cowardly” Tokyo’s method of delivering the report and stiffen their attitude toward the Henoko plan.

Although the prefectural government received the report, Gov. Nakaima said that it is unlikely that he will give permission to the land reclamation. The U.S. Congress has cut the entire $150 million funding for the planned relocation of 8,600 Okinawa-based U.S. Marines to Guam, which forms a package with the Henoko plan, from the fiscal 2012 Pentagon budget.

As long as Tokyo sticks to the Henoko plan, the situation will become more difficult. The Futenma air field will remain where it is, posing great dangers to local residents, and the U.S. Marines’ transfer to Guam will not take place. The central government should drop the Henoko plan and seriously consider moving the Futenma functions outside Okinawa Prefecture.