Editorial: Return of Northern Training Area land will not reduce burden; people’s power must resist oppression

December 23, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

For whose sake is the land being returned? The return can only be declared a deceptive farce devised by the U.S. military and the Abe administration.

At the ceremony celebrating the return of more than half of the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated, “This is the largest return of land since Okinawa was returned to Japan. Roughly twenty percent of U.S. military facility land in Okinawa is being returned, contributing greatly to the reduction of burden on Okinawa.”

It is utterly unacceptable to disguise an increase in the burden borne by Okinawa, in the form of strengthening the function of U.S. bases in Okinawa, as a “reduction of burden” by focusing solely on the area of land to be returned.

We cannot allow December 22, 2016 to go down in history as yet another “Day of Humiliation.” We must rather turn it into a starting point to win a real reduction of burden.

Logic of new base construction and contradictions

At the ceremony, Suga stated that the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) agreement of 1996 between Japan and the U.S. was the starting point for the return of roughly 4,000 hectares of the Northern Training Area. He should have looked back further to the Battle of Okinawa.

After Okinawans were embroiled in the tragic Battle of Okinawa, turned into a sacrificial stone for the protection of the Japanese mainland, their land was forcibly seized by the U.S. military. Given that reality, there is no way the present action could be nonchalantly declared a “reduction of burden.”
Suga said, “After 20 years, we have finally been able to achieve the return.” In fact, he should have apologized for the fact that it took so long to achieve the return of land that the U.S. military considers “unusable.”

The return of more than half of the Northern Training Area is conditioned on the relocation of six helipads in locations so that they will surround the hamlet of Takae in Higashi Villgae. Osprey are already training there regularly. Noise problems at night are becoming more severe, leading to children having to miss school due to lack of sleep.

Looking at the situation in Takae, it is clear that the present land return, conditioned on the helipad relocation, is merely a farcical “reduction of burden.”

The government says that in order to remove the dangers posed by U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, it must proceed with the construction of a relocation facility in Henoko, Nago City, which has a smaller population. However, in the case of the Northern Training Area, it is doing exactly the opposite. Helipads located in a forested area are being relocated to near a hamlet, which contradicts the logic for building a new base in Henoko.

Suga admitted that a burden is being forced on residents, saying, “We will continue to cause you inconvenience with the helipad relocation.” This is what the Abe administration calls a “reduction of burden.”

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said at the ceremony, “In light of the [recent] Osprey accident, we will endeavor to ensure full consideration of the local living environment, such as through avoidance of flights directly over the hamlet.” We are not hopeful.

The Ministry of Defense asked the U.S. military to stop doing dangerous exercises that involve suspending objects by cables from Osprey over residential areas. However, the U.S. military continued such exercises anyway. The Japanese government is powerless to prevent the U.S. military from conducting dangerous training exercises.
Only natural for governor not to attend ceremony

In contrast to the return ceremony, where empty seats stood out, a protest rally held on the same day, organized by the All Okinawa Coalition, which comprises political parties and civic groups, to demand removal of the Osprey was full of fervor.

At the rally, Governor Takeshi Onaga expressed his determination in Uchinaguchi, saying, “We must bring our hearts together as one. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we can’t lose. If a new base is not built in Henoko, we will also be able to have the Osprey removed. We must do our best to prevent [the Henoko base] from being built.”

As concerns about the excessive burden of bases increases, many Okinawans were surely encouraged by the governor’s call for Okinawans to persist in their struggle.

After the return ceremony, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga said, “It is very unfortunate that the governor, who calls for a reduction of the base burden, is unable to attend.” If he is unable to recognize the significance of the governor’s absence from the ceremony, he is not qualified to be the Minister in charge of Alleviating the Burden of the Bases in Okinawa.

It is only natural that the governor did not attend the ceremony. It is rather strange that Suga expressed discomfort with the governor’s absence. He should realize that by pressing forward with the return ceremony immediately after an Osprey crash incident, the government was mocking the people of Okinawa.

What Okinawa demands is the guarantee of a living environment where children can grow up in sound health. The present land return will not lead to a safe living environment. Many Okinawans, not only those who attended the protest rally, know this.

It is Okinawans who will be the ones to open a path to Okinawa’s future. We should once more pledge to use our power as Okinawans to resist oppression.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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