Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa met with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima in Naha on Monday and told him that Tokyo plans to submit to him by the end of this year a report of environmental impact assessment for relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the densely populated Ginowan to the less populated Henoko district in Nago, both on Okinawa Island.
The central government is faithfully following the intention of the United States over the Futenma issue. Clearly Mr. Ichikawa acted in anticipation of a request that is expected to be made to him by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a meeting Oct. 25.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said on Monday that there is a need to attain a “solid conclusion” on the issue in accordance with a Japan-U.S. agreement. But he should realize that Okinawan people’s opposition to the Henoko plan is so strong that there is little possibility that it will proceed smoothly. If the construction of the new air station is forcefully carried out, bloodshed may happen.
An environmental impact assessment is legally required when a large project likely to affect the environment enters into a concrete stage. After the assessment procedure is completed, the central government will ask the governor for permission to reclaim land from the sea for the Henoko facility construction. Unless the governor gives the permission, the reclamation work cannot start.
In meeting with Mr. Ichikawa, Gov. Nakaima did not say that he would reject accepting the environmental impact assessment report. But the governor reminded the defense minister of the fact that Okinawan people’s anger at the Democratic Party of Japan has not yet “dissolved” because the party came to support the Henoko plan although it backed a candidate opposed to the plan in a January 2010 mayoral election of Nago. He said that it will take a long time to implement the Henoko plan and that moving the Futenma functions to another part of Japan outside Okinawa will take a much shorter time.
The central government and the U.S. should heed what he said. They should scrap the Henoko plan and work out a plan acceptable to the Okinawan people. Tokyo and Washington should give careful thought to sentiment that the Henoko plan symbolizes discrimination against Okinawans. In terms of area, Okinawa accounts for only 0.6 percent of Japan but 74 percent of U.S. military bases are concentrated there.
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