Japanese government should abandon the Futenma relocation plan

December 15, 2011 Ryukyu Shimpo

The issue of the relocation and return of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa has reached a critical juncture.
In the United States, the Senate and the House of Representatives have agreed to cut the 150 million dollars tagged for the planned relocation of the U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam from the annual budget for fiscal 2012.
The relocation of the Marines from Okinawa to Guam, an illogical option in the first place, is supposed to happen in tandem with the moving of Futenma Air Station within the prefecture, a matter that exhibits an increasing likelihood of being politically destabilizing.
Deeply concerned about the nation’s financial problems, Congress has stated that the lack of progress on the relocation of Futenma Air Station from Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, something totally unachievable in the face of opposition from every corner of Okinawan society, is the reason for the cut in funding for the relocation of the Okinawa-based Marines to Guam.
In effect the Congress has rejected the relocation of Futenma Air Station to Henoko.

Submission of environmental assessment report could trigger political turmoil

American experts on U.S.-Japan security such as former Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, Professor Joseph Nye, who is known as a key figure in the pro-Japanese group, have proposed several alternative plans, such as moving the Marine Corps to Australia or relocating them to California. This has further strengthened the resolve of the Okinawan people, who oppose Futenma Air Base being relocated within the prefecture.
In addition, Congress has decided not to fund a plan that does not seem to be feasible, and it is unlikely that it will change its mind on this for fiscal 2013.
The situation that the Japanese and the U.S. governments find themselves in regarding the planned relocation of the Marines from Okinawa to Guam is deteriorating. The momentum behind the revision of the Japan-U.S. agreement on the relocation of Futenma is now unstoppable. Both governments should stop clinging to the current relocation plan – the time has come to stop pretending that they can achieve the impossible.
First of all, the Japanese and the U.S. governments should abandon the relocation to Henoko. President Barack Obama, who has advocated a diplomatic policy placing value on the Asia Pacific regions, has asserted that America’s financial problems will not impact upon the region’s security.
President Barack Obama issued a warning to the legislators their actions could endanger U.S. – Japan relations. “The bill would unnecessarily restrict the ability and flexibility of the president to execute our foreign and defense policies with our ally, Japan. Deferring or eliminating these projects could send the unintended message that the United States does not stand by its allies or its agreements.”
The president desperately asked Congress to reconsider funding of the planned relocation, but Congress refused outright.
It should be noted that Congress is also asking the American government to review the deployment of its military forces in the Asia-Pacific region.
It is difficult to imagine that the United States, which is scheduled to bring an end to the large-scale deployment of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, would deploy ground forces such as the Marines in the future. In practical terms, U.S. military strategy is to deploy naval and air forces rather than continue the stationing of the Marines in Okinawa as a deterrent against the threat of aggression by China, an eventuality that lacks clear substance.
At the same time, the Japanese government maintains its position on submitting an environmental assessment report for the Futenma relocation plan to the Okinawa Prefectural Government by the end of 2011.
The Japanese government’s intention to submit the report this year, something aimed at showing progress on the relocation, was believed to be an attempt to play a trump card to prevent Congress moving to cut funding for the relocation of Okinawa-based Marines to Guam. However, it had no effect. The Japanese government has therefore lost the basis of its stance that the report should be submitted to Okinawa before the end of this year.
The Okinawa Defense Bureau chief’s injudicious remark in which he compared the submission of the environment assessment report in question to warning a woman about being raped was a slight against the dignity of the Okinawan people. In addition, Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa’s remark exposing his lack of knowledge about the problems surrounding U.S. military bases in Okinawa is still fresh in the minds of the Okinawan people.
In the context of growing anger in Okinawan communities, the submission of the environmental assessment report to Okinawa could only serve to trigger further political turmoil.

Both Japanese and the U.S. governments should not leave Futenma Air Station where it is

There is the concern that Futenma Air Station will be permanently retained as a result of the cuts by Congress of funding for the relocation of the Okinawa-based Marines to Guam.
Prolonged use of the air station, described as the most dangerous base in the world, is a reckless deed that would not only pose further danger to local residents, but could also even undermine the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty itself.
Although more than 15 years have passed since the Japanese and U.S. governments reached an agreement on the closure of Futenma Air Station and the return of its land, the facilities have not moved anywhere because of the additional condition that the base should be relocated within Okinawa.
Although an influential U.S. senator has urged the Defense Secretary to reconsider the option of integration of the functions of Futenma into Kadena Air Base, strong opposition from local residents makes this completely unacceptable. “Okinawan communities will no longer accept painful decisions on this.” (A quote from former Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine.)
While both governments continue to seek a way to relocate the base within the prefecture, this is simply not possible.
That in this context, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara traveled to the United States and talked with key figures in the Congress and the government, reiterating the intention to relocate Futenma Air Station to Henoko, is contrary to the will of the Okinawan people and is irresponsible.
It goes without saying that the LDP in Okinawa, which ahead of next June’s prefectural assembly election has been demanding the relocation of Futenma out of Okinawa, should oppose Ishihara’s actions and, in this respect, we would like the LDP in Okinawa to voice their objection in no uncertain terms.
On the same day that the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives agreed to cut funding for the planned relocation of the Marines from Okinawa to Guam, the Japanese government adopted a resolution that if Okinawan Governor Hirokazu Nakaima rejects the application for the reclamation of the coastal area of Henoko, the central government could, based on the Local Autonomy Act, execute by proxy and approve the application at a Cabinet meeting.
It would appear that while the central government pretends to strive to obtain the consent of the people of Okinawa, it also makes statements to the effect that it will go against their will and in the end will push ahead with the relocation of the base within the prefecture.
While this could be legally possible to implement, such an authoritarian approach could spell the end of democracy, and be tantamount to an act of political suicide for this administration.

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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