Editorial: Diet encirclement against new US base represents departure from indifferent attitude toward Okinawa

February 23, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

More than seventy years have passed since the Battle of Okinawa, yet heavy-handed political forces still aim to fill the bountiful ocean with concrete in order to build a new military base. However, popular will is spreading in resistance to this authoritarian form of government. This is an encouraging sign that the people are striving to bring democracy back into their own hands.

A record 28,000 people recently encircled the Japanese Diet building demanding that the government cancel its plans to build a new military base as part of the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko, Nago. The day before and the day of the encirclement, similar actions were held in nine cities across the country, with more than 31,000 people participating.

At the Diet building encirclement and other venues across the country, men and women, young and old carried protest signs and wore blue to represent the ocean around Henoko. Cries of “Don’t build the base!” and “Stop the land reclamation!” filled the cold winter sky.

A rising wave of popular opinion is joining Okinawa to oppose the new base. The Abe administration must not avert its eyes from this trend.

Journalist Satoshi Kamata called for people nationwide to share Okinawa’s pain, saying, “We must ask ourselves whether we can really continue to live our lives complacently while forcing Okinawa to sacrifice for us.”

Unfortunately, a majority of Japanese citizens still turn a blind eye to the pain Okinawa faces from the overwhelming concentration of military bases and the construction of a new base. Many of the major news corporations based in Tokyo failed to report on the recent Diet building encirclement.

In January, though the Ginowan mayoral election saw reelection of the incumbent, who was supported by the Abe administration, this did not imply popular acceptance of the Henoko relocation. Nevertheless, a Kyodo News opinion poll conducted a week later showed a majority of Japanese people supporting the government’s policy.

Combined with indifference toward Okinawa, the government’s attempt to manipulate public opinion with repeated assertions that “Henoko is the only solution” is seeing some success. This trend must not be allowed to continue.

The numerous actions held recently represent a break with the logic of indifference that has allowed Japan to unblinkingly keep a majority of military bases in Okinawa. The protests show a movement toward sharing Okinawa’s pain and a strong awareness of popular sovereignty with the potential to force the government to give up on the base construction plan.

This was the fourth time the Diet building has been encircled in protest against the new Henoko base. Participation has increased every time. After 22,000 people encircled the Diet building in protest in September 2015, Governor Takeshi Onaga nullified the Henoko land reclamation permit needed to build the base. Immediately after, however, the Japanese government filed a lawsuit to authorize the land reclamation by proxy in an attempt to wrest the governor’s authority from him. The Okinawa prefectural government responded with a protest suit.

Additionally, the defense ministry circumvented the Nago municipal government and provided direct financial subsidies to the three Kube districts around Henoko. Just as with the lawsuit, this constitutes a flagrant violation of local autonomy rights.

Opposition is strong against the government’s heavy-handed stance which ignores the will of the Okinawan people and endangers democracy and local autonomy. The Abe administration should give up its plan to build a new military base.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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