The Defense Ministry on March 22 submitted an application for land reclamation off the Henoko coastal area in Nago City in the northern part of Okinawa Island to build a replacement facility for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is located further south in Ginowan City.
The government’s move is based on a February agreement between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama that the Futenma functions should be moved to Henoko at an early date. The submission of the land reclamation application will give Okinawans the impression that Tokyo is trying to strengthen Japan-U.S. ties at the expense of Okinawa and will further intensify their opposition to the Henoko plan.
The Okinawa prefectural assembly and the assemblies of Okinawa Prefectures’ 41 municipalities have adopted resolutions to oppose the Henoko plan and Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima said that the relocation the Futenma functions to Henoko is “practically impossible.” Environmental groups such as the Nature Conservation Society of Japan and the World Wide Fund for Nature Japan also strongly oppose the land reclamation plan, saying that it will destroy the precious ocean environment that is home to dugongs and rich in coral. Japan and the United States should rethink the Henoko plan and sincerely heed Okinawan people’s call for moving the Futenma functions out of Okinawa Prefecture.
The way the application was submitted will also deepen Okinawan distrust of the central government. Around 3 p.m. on March 22, the Nago fishing cooperative submitted to the Okinawa Defense Bureau a letter of consent to relinquish part of its fishing rights. Around 3:40 p.m., with just five minutes’ notice, six bureau workers came to an office of the Okinawa prefectural government in Nago, placed five boxes of application documents there and left without giving their names or leaving their name cards. Many Okinawans will think that the bureau’s action is unforgivable.
Mr. Abe and other government leaders say that dangers from the Futenma air station resulting from its continued presence in urban Ginowan City should be eliminated at any cost. But Okinawan people interpret their statements as an expression of their determination to push the Henoko plan. The Abe Cabinet’s decision to hold a ceremony on April 28 to commemorate the day that Japan recovered its sovereignty under the San Francisco Peace Treaty 61 years ago on April 28 will also fan Okinawan anger. Okinawans regard that date as “the day of humiliation” as Okinawa fell under U.S. administration and Okinawan land was expropriated for use by the U.S. military using “bayonets and bulldozers.” The Okinawa prefectural government’s examination of the land reclamation request is expected to take about one year. Rather than wait for this process to finish, Tokyo should soon start talks with Washington to find a suitable relocation site for the Futenma air station outside Okinawa Prefecture.