Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine’s tense expression while shaking hands with Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga and Prime Minister Junichiro Koiziumi last week told a lot about an agreement between him and the central government on the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The Okinawa governor and the central government agreed to deal with the relocation issue “on the basis of” a plan approved by the Japanese and U.S. governments May 1.
In dealing with the issue, the central and Okinawan governments agreed, among other things, to heed the removal of dangers inherent to Futenma Air Station, located in urban Ginowan, and ensure the safety of local residents concerned.
The government believes that the agreement gives a green light to the May 1 plan to build two 1,800-meter runways, including 200-meter overruns, in a V-shape on part of U.S. Marine Camp Schwab’s land on Cape Henoko in the city of Nago and on reclaimed land in adjacent waters. It is said that the V-shape will help prevent U.S. military aircraft from flying over residential areas near the camp. But when asked at a news conference if he accepted the government’s Futenma functions relocation plan, Gov. Inamine vehemently said no.
Since the agreement is based on the government’s relocation plan, the central government thinks that Gov. Inamine gave his nod to the construction of the V-shaped runways as spelled out in the plan. In fact, Defense Agency Vice Minister Takemasa Moriya told a separate press briefing that he thought that the government won Okinawa’s “understanding” for the relocation to Camp Schwab.
But Gov. Inamine has strong reasons for refusing to publicly declare that he accepted the government plan. The rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. soldiers in Okinawa Prefecture in September 1995 rekindled local resentment against the presence of U.S. military bases in Okinawa. In 1996, Japan and the U.S. struck a basic agreement to relocate the Futenma functions. In 1999, Gov. Inamine accepted a plan to build a heliport off Cape Henoko that differed from the May 1 government plan. He accepted this plan, which would totally use reclaimed land on condition that the heliport would be for both military and commercial use and would cease being used in 15 years.
At the time he also said if these conditions were not met, Futenma’s functions should be relocated outside Okinawa Prefecture. The May 1 plan does not set the date for ending use of the V-shaped runways.
Given this background, Gov. Inamine cannot abandon his original position. Last week he said the Okinawa Prefectural Government will continue to press the central government to build a temporary heliport inside Camp Schwab as an emergency measure until a permanent relocation site for the Futenma Air Station is decided on. But the Defense Agency reportedly dislikes the proposal.
Under the agreement reached between the Okinawa governor and the central government, the Tokyo and Okinawan governments are to pay close attention to removing dangers posed by the Futenma facility, ensuring the safety of local residents, maintaining the natural environment and the feasibility of the relocation of the Futenma functions. The Defense Agency, the Okinawa Prefectural Government, the Nago city government and other local governments concerned are to continually and sincerely consult with each other on a plan to build a substitute facility for Futenma Air Station. The central government is also to consider improving the operation of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement and related matters.
There is a strong possibility that the central government may take the position that going ahead with the May 1 relocation plan is the best way to remove the dangers posed by the Futenma Air Station. Or the Japanese government may at least ask the U.S. military to change the routes of aircraft using the Futenma Air Station. But there is no guarantee that U.S. military authorities will heed the request. Moreover, ensuring the safety of local residents concerned and maintenance of the natural environment would not be easy to implement if these points are taken seriously.
The Nago mayor has agreed to the May 1 relocation plan in principle, although he calls for shortening of the length of the planned runways. But it would be too simplistic if the central government thinks that people in Okinawa Prefecture will readily accept the May 1 relocation plan. At the very least, they will be carefully watching whether the points in the agreement are faithfully implemented. Unless the central and Okinawan governments implement the agreement in good faith, resentment and opposition on the part of the Okinawan people will only increase.
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