Japan-U.S. governments stick with the Henoko relocation – human rights of secondary importance?

February 9, 2012

On February 8, the Japanese and U.S. governments released a joint statement on revisions to the Realignment of U.S. Forces. The two governments agreed to put this in place ahead of the U.S. Marines’ transfer from Okinawa to Guam and separate from the current Futenma relocation plan, and also reaffirmed their adherence to the plan to relocate the Futenma Air Station to Henoko in Nago, describing that as “the only viable way forward.” This is contrary to the opinion of the majority of people in Okinawa and simply falls into line with U.S. policy, so is absolutely unacceptable to us.

In their joint statement, both governments suggested discussing whether or not it is possible to return five facilities and land occupied by the U.S. military south of Kadena Air Base prior to the closure of the Futenma Air Station. Okinawan people struggle to understand why on the one hand Tokyo and Washington seem to have a thought-block on reconsidering the Henoko relocation plan, but on the other they display a flexible attitude to the return of these five facilities. The majority of voters in Okinawa have supported candidates in the Prefectural Governor’s election, national elections, prefectural assembly election and the Nago mayoral election who aligned themselves with the “No Henoko” stance. By ignoring the democratic procedures involved here, the Japanese and United States governments damage the very credibility of democracy.

The citizens of Okinawa seek the relocation of Futenma’s facilities either outside the prefecture or overseas or the unconditional return of the land used by Futenma Air Station. While the heads of the municipalities and residents welcome the “progress” in the revised plan that an earlier return of facilities and land can be expected, people have reacted with dismay at the prospect of the facilities at Futenma – described as “the world’s most dangerous airbase” – remaining there on a permanent basis. The Okinawan people are sensitive towards the suffering of others; this is part of our approach to life. Okinawa is neither a colony of Japan nor of the United States – it is not somewhere that they can do whatever they like. If MV-22 Osprey vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that have defects are deployed to Futenma Air Station, this would be a possible threat to human life and human rights. The citizens of Okinawa are not so innocent and gullible as to take this situation lying down.

More than 60 years ago, John Foster Dulles requested that Japan grant the United States the right to maintain military forces in Japan at whatever levels, locations and term America saw fit. As the special envoy of the U.S. President he negotiated with Japan on the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and the Treaty of San Francisco. Since those days, Japan has continued to follow the United States in its foreign policy. Does this country have a distorted security policy that allows U.S. forces to use bases freely and to treat human rights or people’s lives as though they are of secondary importance?

In response to questions in the Diet, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda answered, “The government’s intention to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station to Henoko in Nago remains unchanged.” We cannot understand the logic of sticking to the Henoko plan when even prominent people in the United States have raised questions about the military and political rationality of the situation. We would like Prime Minister to respect the human rights and lives of Okinawans to the same extent as those of the people of the main islands of Japan. If he genuinely wishes to have a sustainable relationship with the United States, he will respect the will of the people and strive to convince President Obama to abandon the Henoko plan and remove Futenma Air Station from Okinawa.

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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