Heed the will of Okinawans

The Okinawa Defense Bureau last week resumed offshore seabed drilling for a geological survey off the Henoko district in Nago in Okinawa Island — a preparatory step for reclaiming land to build a replacement facility for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma.

The work resumed for the first time since Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga took office after winning the November gubernatorial election by promising to halt construction at Henoko.

Local residents’ opposition to the plan will only increase if the national government pushes ahead with the construction. The government needs to heed the will of Okinawans, as expressed in the recent series of elections.

The bureau, a part of the Defense Ministry, began drilling in August, but suspended work in mid-September due to bad weather, then postponed it further apparently in view of its possible impact on the gubernatorial election in November and the Lower House election in December.

Onaga has requested that the government suspend the drilling until a committee of six experts set up by the prefecture concludes its probe into the legitimacy of his predecessor Hirokazu Nakaima’s December 2013 decision to give the go-ahead on reclamation work. The Abe administration has ignored Onaga’s request.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said: “Our country is governed by the rule of law and our procedures are based on law. The permission for the landfill work has no legal problems at all, so our position to proceed with the work remains unchanged.” But if that is Suga’s logic, he would do well to recall the events leading to Nakaima’s decision. Nakaima had been re-elected as Okinawa governor in 2010 after calling for the Futenma replacement facility to be built outside the prefecture. As head of an association comprising the governor and the heads of local municipalities hosting U.S. military facilities, and whose purpose was to discuss solutions to base-related issues, he called on the national government to move the Futenma functions out of Okinawa. Nakaima’s land reclamation decision in 2013 — made in exchange for the Abe administration’s decision to sharply increase government spending to promote Okinawa’s economy — ran counter to his election promise. If Suga insists on relying on the rule of law, he must ask whether it’s legitimate for the government to use Naikaima’s flip-flop move — which clearly ignores the democratic will of voters — as the basis for its decision.

Meanwhile, the Okinawa prefectural government has learned that a concrete block sunk by the defense bureau damaged coral in an area outside of the zone where Nakaima had permitted construction work on the seabed. Unfortunately, the U.S. military rejected the prefecture’s request for permission to investigate possible damage to coral in an off-limits zone, on the grounds that the probe would interfere with its operations.

The local daily Ryukyu Shimpo also questions whether Suga is justified in referring to the rule of law since the work to crush seabed rocks started before dawn on Jan. 27. The starting time violated agreed conditions stipulating that work must be done between dawn and sunset as well as contravened an internal rule promulgated by the defense bureau that work must start about an hour after dawn.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he will “get close to Okinawan people’s sentiments,” but his administration appears to be doing just the opposite. The administration should at least halt the work off Henoko while the Okinawa committee’s probe continues and hold talks with local officials. And to avoid further complications of the situation, the administration should make a serious effort to come up with an alternative plan.

  • kyushuphil

    An American, living in the mountains of Kyushu, I support the Okinawans.

    My support comes from many factors. First might be the Nam war, when I was a Spec 5 U.S. Army translator/interpreter of Vietnamese. I saw the lying first-hand — constant, deliberate, manipulative lying all designed only to protect liars in higher places. The campaign of lies had to be protected because nowhere in the war did the U.S. care a whit for anything other than its culture of materialism — the faith that numbers and stats could keep delivering war materiel, and more numbers and stats could inundate the country with motor scooters and
    refrigerators which would buy off local people’s assent to continuous massacres.

    That scorn for local humanity has only ramped up in the intervening years. It should be evident in the forced displacement of tens of millions from traditional cultures in Asia, Africa, and Latin America — all brought about by U.S.-subsidized Industrial Ag underpricing local commodity crops around the world — and killing local cultures globally.

    This is why the idiot, repetitious wars keep expanding — and it’s a colossal stupidity on the U.S.’s part that thus “requires” bases such as those in Okinawa.

    The U.S. (through its Fulbright program, for instance) could address people in different cultures seeing each other better. But the corporate priorities that sub-divide all corporate academe into departmentalization turfs mitigate against anything ever to let peoples in one culture better see those in another. It’s only the materialism that must grind on — the consumerism, and the de-personalized educations so many get, leaving all vulnerable to the ongoing consumerism lies.

    Of course Okinawa must suffer its share of environmental ruin for the sake of preserving U.S. corporate stupidity. So many stupid people at the top in the U.S. — culminating in the Supreme Court’s ruling that massive piles of corporate money should replace, run over, all real humanity.

    So I say “yes” to the people of Okinawa, and their besieged land and waters..

  • Liars N. Fools

    The condescending attitude of the Imperial Japanese Army towards the Okinawans extended to sacrificing them and forcing many to commit suicide during the Battle of Okinawa. Then the American military occupation which lasted until 1971 meant that once again the Okinawans were treated as less than “real” Japanese — attitudes that continue to this day.

    Abe Shinzo refuses to meet a duly elected local official, demonstrating his contempt for someone who is not “really” Japanese despite being originally an LDP politician. Meanwhile there are many American officials who condone contempt for “the locals” with, for example, a former American Consul General calling the Okinawans “masters of manipulation and extortion” simply for asking for their rights.

  • Facebook User

    As an American i say never ever trust the US military! They will never be truthful and they have hurt enough women and children worldwide to be considered the biggest group of terrorists ever!

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  • Lincolnman

    It’s unfortunate that the Japan Times continues to reflect it’s anti-US bias in almost every article and editorial related to Okinawa. John Mitchell’s far left conspiracy theories, skewed reports of violence against protestors, etc. Yet they completely ignore the 2006 ATARA agreement that closes Futenma, Kinser and parts of Foster and returns all this property back to the local Okinawan government, along with moving 10K Marines and their families to Guam – real reductions with real impact.
    The US and Japan looked at options for replacing Futenma since 1995 – and the only operationally suitable one was the FRF facility at Camp Schwab, which contrary to info published in the Times, is not a “megabase”, but a significantly smaller facility than Futenma and much less operationally capable (much smaller runway).
    It’s time to close Futenma, the encroachment is a real safety problem, and the land is prime real estate for development – lets get on with the FRF and see some real reductions in the US military presence – or could it be that that these anti-base zealots self-identity is so tied up with their hate for the US that a reduced US military presence is the last thing they want…….

    • jwtn

      I have been on and off for fifthteen years now on both sides of the fence I would say that the U.S. military has no respect for the okinawans people and treat them with complete disdain the time to leave was a long time ago and we never should have been here in the first place I would normally defend the U.S. military but the U.S. military in Okinawa is less than honorable and not morally defendable it’s time for the marines to go home and never come back

      • CC

        Maybe you did. All the people I served with were very aware of maintaining a good relationship with the Okinawan people. I took ichariba chode to heart myself. I never had an issue and wandered all over the island.

    • Terence and Phillip McKenna

      @Lincolnman3:disqus Just curious, do you work for the US military or for Japan? Your attitude shows both ignorance of, and, contempt for the people of Okinawa.

  • pnkearns

    Looking at an aerial view of Air Station Futenma, I can see the urban build up around it.

    If you moved the base off Okinawa, what are the options? The Okinawans would have more success if they had an alternative solution to push vs. just “no”.

    • jwtn

      It’s time for the marines to cut the crap and leave I served in the 31st meu as a corpsman I fully understand that this is largely define by lies deception and racist discrimination from both Tokyo and Washington I have lost my respect for the generals here

  • boonteetan

    Looks like while Abe is reported to be supporting the Okinawans, his administration decides otherwise. Could that be possible in a transparent government? One wonders.

  • DoctorNine

    The Ryukyu islands were conquered by the US in wartime. The agreement to return the major portion of the islands to native Okinawans, was conditioned upon the retention of bases for operation of the US military beyond the time of the handover. The US didn’t have to do this. It could have simply retained the island chain as US territory after the war, if it were the type of country that thinks only of security. Imagine that China had gained possession of Okinawa, I hardly think we would even be having this conversation.

    While it is incontrovertibly true that the US doesn’t really need the volume of troops which it maintains in Japan, in order to assist the Japanese in maintaining a secure and stable East Asia, the current conflicts with China over various security zones in the region, makes stationing US air and sea power in the area prudent. And this will continue for the foreseeable future.

    If the Okinawa government wants to decrease the burden of US military bases on its territory, and I think this is a reasonable desire, then it will have to come up with some other alternative location in the region to house those troop which really do need to be there. And that location will have to be big enough for an airport, and a hobo to house ships as large as carriers.

    This is simply the reality. Governor Onaga will be required to face it, despite his, and his constituents’, displeasure over the situation.