Editorial: Henoko construction will cause irreparable damage to the sea environment; prefectural government must take action

February 7, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo

The government has started work in the ocean for the new Henoko base in preparation for large-scale land reclamation.

This outrageous behavior tramples on Okinawans’ overwhelming opposition to the construction, expressed in countless elections and opinion polls, and invites anger. Prior to the commencement of works, the prefectural government requested a detailed explanation of the work to be done, but the government unilaterally cut off discussions. We strongly protest the government’s high-handed disregard for local autonomy.

The new base will facilitate deployment of the dangerous Osprey aircraft and reinforce the U.S. base presence in Okinawa. It will also cause irreversible damage to the ocean, which is a treasure of the Okinawan people and a natural habitat that is also important from a global perspective. We reaffirm our demand that the government immediately cease construction, and call on the prefectural government to take all possible measures to prevent the construction.

Osprey’s defects become clear

The construction of a new base in Henoko will constitute an increase in the base burden borne by Okinawans and will entail massive destruction of nature. For these two significant reasons, it cannot be accepted.
The new Henoko facility will have both an airfield and a port for ships. Osprey and the new F35 fighter plane will be deployed and operated from the new base, leading to an indisputable increase in Okinawa’s burden.

The government long concealed the plan to deploy the defective Osprey, deceiving Okinawans.

An Osprey crashed at the end of last year, proving Okinawans’ anxieties about the aircraft to be well-founded. The accident that occurred during midair refueling drills bought to light defects in the aircraft’s body structure and training mode.

U.S. military documents reported on by the Ryukyu Shimpo acknowledged flaws in the Osprey’s body structure, indicating the possibility of midair refueling hoses and apparatuses bumping into the aircraft during refueling, and predicted the possibility of an accident, stating that a major tragedy could occur of the hose hit the Osprey’s propellers.

The recent accident happened just as described in the document. If the structural flaw in which the hose could into the propeller is not fundamentally resolved, another tragedy is inevitable.

The U.S. military and the government have made no comment on the reporting of these crucially important facts that show the impossibility of safe operation of the Osprey. And now, they are pushing forward with construction at sea. They are prioritizing the construction of a U.S. base at the sacrifice of Okinawan lives.

The sea area to be reclaimed is one of the last pristine ocean areas that remains in the vicinity of Okinawa Island.

In a survey of Oura Bay conducted by the Nature Conservation Society of Japan, more than 40% of the ocean floor was found to be covered by coral, which was assessed to be in healthy condition.

The 228 large concrete blocks to be dropped into the ocean will damage the coral and impact the endemic natural ecosystem. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has made multiple recommendations that the dugong be protected, but the Japanese government ignored them. The dugong disappeared from the area when floats were put up. The planned land reclamation will cause devastating damage to the natural environment in Oura Bay.

The abundant nature in the sea is also an important tourism resource. The lives of precious wildlife and one of Okinawans’ resources for tourism are about to be stolen away.

International solidarity and information strategies are needed

U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis visited Japan to meet with the prime minister and defense minister and confirmed support for the Henoko base construction. He showed no inclination to pay any heed to the objections of Okinawans or the Okinawa prefectural government.

The U.S.-Japan alliance is attempting to use force to suppress Okinawa’s popular will. But Okinawans will not give in. Okinawans will not resign themselves to being sacrificed by Japan and the United States.
The Okinawa prefectural government should not bend under heavy pressure from the U.S. and Japanese governments and should exercise all possible legal and administrative countermeasures.

The government plans to create as many fait accomplish as possible in quick succession, putting up a silt curtain after the blocks are sunk and then moving on to embankment work for the land reclamation. The government has also unilaterally asserted that procedures to renew the coral crushing permit, which will expire at the end of March, are “unnecessary”, and plans to forego the permit renewal and proceed with construction.

There will be no way to recover the nature that is lost through the land reclamation. The prefectural government should make no delay in taking such steps as revoking the previous governor’s approval of the land reclamation and taking legal action against unlawful crushing of coral.

Okinawans are facing oppression from the Japanese and U.S. governments, but they are not alone. We must spread opposition to the base construction in Japan and abroad and confront the two governments.

It is also necessary to counter the government’s manipulation of information with claims that local residents accept the construction and that the Osprey is safe. It is crucial to involve experts on military, legal and administrative matters, as well as environmental protection groups, and to advance information strategies to strengthen international solidarity.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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