Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda visited Okinawa on Sunday and Monday for the first time since he came to power and met with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima Monday morning. His main purpose was to persuade the Okinawa governor to accept the 2006 Japan-U.S. agreement to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the urban, populated Ginowan on Okinawa Island to the less populated Henoko in the northern part of the island.
Mr. Noda apparently thinks that if the central government lessens Okinawa’s burden related to hosting of U.S. military bases and other facilities by pushing an early return of five U.S. facilities south of the Kadena Air Base, Okinawa would accept the Henoko plan. If he really thinks so, it is a wishful thinking on his part. Mr. Nakaima’s remarks have shown that there is little prospect that the Okinawan people will accept the Henoko plan. Mr. Noda should completely change his approach to the Futenma issue.
During the meeting, Mr. Noda stressed that both the Japanese and the U.S. governments think that the Henoko plan is “the only effective way” to solve the Futenma issue. He seems to think that the recent election of a conservative candidate, who in the past supported the Henoko plan, as the mayor of Ginowan will help change the direction of winds in Okinawa. But it is clear that this will not happen. Mr. Nakaima said that he has no intention whatever of changing his call that the Futenma functions should be moved to a place outside Okinawa Prefecture. He called on Mr. Noda to look for a candidate site in other parts of Japan because it will take much less time to realize the relocation.
In the Okinawa prefectural assembly, the parties supporting Mr. Nakaima — the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito — are a minority. But the governor made it clear that even if the two parties win a majority of seats in the June assembly election, he will continue to call for moving the Futenma functions outside Okinawa Prefecture. On Feb. 20, he issued a written opinion that the Defense Ministry’s environment protection plan related to land reclamation off Henoko to build a substitute facility for the Futenma air station is inadequate to protect the environment there. Japan should propose to the U.S. to drop the Henoko plan and jointly work out a new plan to move the Futenma functions outside Okinawa Prefecture.