Prefectural assemblies nationwide tackle Okinawa base issue

December 22, 2015 Ryuyku Shimpo

The Japanese national government sued the Okinawa prefectural government in an attempt to override the prefecture’s authority and conduct proxy approval of the land reclamation permit needed for the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko. Since then, local assemblies in other prefectures around Japan have increasingly expressed criticism of the Japanese government’s behavior. Some have even sought support for accepting U.S. military base functions in their own localities. Other local assemblies have expressed support for the Henoko relocation plan, but overall, there has been an increase in support for Okinawa’s allegation that the current base issue raises questions about the state of local autonomy in Japan. Many believe that for other localities to accept the U.S. military bases would be an effective way to lessen the burden on Okinawa.

At a Nara Prefectural Assembly meeting on December 4, assemblyman Masashi Kawaguchi of the progressive legislative faction Sosei Nara criticized the Japanese government’s legal action to conduct proxy approval of the land reclamation as authoritarian and tyrannical, saying that for the sake of protecting local autonomy, the government’s actions must not be excused.

Kawaguchi then asked the governor of Nara, Shogo Arai, if he would be willing to cooperate in trying to get the National Governor’s Association to protest in solidarity with Governor Onaga in his struggle with the national government. Governor Arai replied that due to the complex entanglement of national security issues and local issues involved, the problem is a difficult one to solve, and stated that as the governor of Nara, it was not his place to voice on opinion.

Kawaguchi, a veteran lawmaker in his tenth term, told the Ryukyu Shimpo that the issue is not merely confined to Okinawa, but is rather a major issue relevant to all of Japan. He stated he believes the problem must be viewed from the perspective of protecting local autonomy in Okinawa, Nara, and everywhere else in Japan.

At an Oita Prefectural Assembly meeting on December 7, assemblyman Hideo Suemune of the Liberal Democratic Party suggested that Osprey training be relocated to Keno Airfield in Bungo Onoshi City, Oita. He questioned the appropriateness of pushing all the burden of U.S. military operations on Okinawa, stating that talk about “burden reduction” must be translated into action. He suggested that given the current state of operations at Keno, turning it into an Osprey training base would be a highly effective use of the airfield.

Yoshiharu Suwa, head of the Oita Prefectural Department of Community and Environmental Affairs, explained that Keno Airfield serves as the hub for Oita’s disaster prevention air unit, and that it is also used by private sector aircraft. He emphasized that Oita is working hard to take on as much burden as possible, mentioning that in 1998, Oita acquiesced to becoming a site for U.S. military live-fire training.

Assemblyman Suemune is also head of the Policy Research Committee of the Oita prefectural chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party. He told the Ryukyu Shimpo that he raised the issue at the assembly meeting based on his own opinions, not based on the views of the Oita prefectural chapter of the LDP or his legislative faction. He stated that he believes it is wrong to make Okinawa bear full responsibility for Japan’s national security, and that he wanted to suggest that Oita take the initiative in helping to reduce the burden on Okinawa.

(Translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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