Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa told U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Tokyo on Oct. 25 that the Japanese government will take an official procedural step by the end of this year to push the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Okinawa Island’s densely populated Ginowan city to Nago city’s less populated Henoko district on the same island. The step will consist of submitting a report of environmental impact assessment of the construction of the Henoko facility to Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima.
Mr. Panetta praised Tokyo’s decision and reminded Mr. Ichikawa that it is important for Japan to make progress in the implementation of the relocation plan. The submission of the environmental impact assessment to the governor is an important step toward getting his approval for permission to reclaim land from the sea to construct the Henoko facility.
But opposition to the relocation plan is so strong among Okinawan people that Mr. Nakaima is calling on the central government to move the Futenma functions out of Okinawa Prefecture altogether. There is a strong possibility that the governor will refuse to approve the central government’s request to reclaim land. The government may be thinking of taking a special legislative step to enable it to reclaim the land even without the governor’s permission. But such an action would only further fuel anger in Okinawa and in the worst case invite bloodshed.
Both the Japanese and U.S. governments hint that if the Henoko plan remains stalled, the Futenma air station will remain in crowded urban Ginowan and continue to pose a danger to the city’s citizens. They apparently think that that possibility will lead Mr. Nakaima to change his mind and accept the Henoko plan. But if so, they are misjudging his and his constituents’ determination not to accept the Henoko plan.
At the core of their opposition is the fact that in terms of area, 74 percent of U.S. bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa, which accounts for only 0.6 percent of Japan. The longer the Japanese and U.S. governments insist on the Henoko plan, the stronger Okinawan people’s anti-base sentiment will become. The Noda Cabinet should start talks with the United States to scrap the Henoko plan and work out a solution acceptable to all Okinawans.
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