Governor delivers referendum results, PM’s disregard for it is unacceptable

March 2, 2019 The Ryukyu Shimpo

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and reported the outcome of the prefectural referendum, in which more than 70% opposed reclaiming land to construct a new base in Henoko.

The prime minister rejected the public consensus, stating: “we cannot leave behind the hazardous situation [of MCAS U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma].”

Clearly, the prime minister’s statement is a contradictory one. Addressing the dangers of Futenma base is an urgent issue.

According to the current plans released by the central government in 2013, the base will be closed and returned to Okinawa “sometime after 2022.”

However, construction of the new Henoko base, the intended replacement facility for Futenma, only just begun. Furthermore, the area to be reclaimed is problemed with a soft seabed, described as having a “mayonnaise-like” consistency; As the prime minister confirmed, it requires ground-improvement work.

In one diet session, Abe was unable to produce an explicit response to a question regarding the project, and said: “It is hard to definitively say the amount of time and money that will be required.” The odds of this construction project drawing out is very high.

To keep Futenma and its hazards from being left behind, Tokyo must immediately negotiate with the U.S. to close the base; Construction of the new base in Henoko has to stop promptly.

The prefecture-wide referendum held on February 24 revealed 72.15% oppose land reclamation in Henoko, while 19.1% support it and 8.75% are undecided. Gov.

Tamaki took the results to the prime minister and the U.S. Embassy in Japan, as stipulated in the referendum ordinance.

During his meeting with Prime Minister Abe, the governor made two appeals: To respect what the Okinawans want, which was made clear by the opposition vote exceeding 70%, and halt the reclamation work accordingly; and to create a new platform for three-party discussions and include the prefecture in The Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO), which agreed to reduce the burden of the prefecture.

Both are reasonable requests. Voters were asked to vote on only one question—whether to reclaim land in Henoko, and over 70% opposed it. The central government has maintained that building a new base in Henoko is “the only option.” However, it is impermissible to say that something is “the only” option in politics, where issues are solved by coordinating varying interests.

It has been pointed out repeatedly that, while Okinawa shoulders 70% of all U.S. military facilities in Japan, it has been excluded from the framework to discuss reducing its burden.

Some of the major bases SACO agreed to return to Okinawa, such as Futenma, camp Kinser (Makiminato Service Area) and Naha Port Facility, has not seen any progress towards closing. This is owed to the agreement’s requirement that the bases must be moved within the prefecture, which ignored the appeals made by Okinawa.

Although Abe stated he “takes the results seriously,” he rejected the local consensus. “Over 20 years have passed since the Japan-U.S. agreement, and we cannot delay any longer,” he said. The prime minister did not comment on the two appeals made by Gov. Tamaki.

What is being left behind by Prime Minister Abe is the will of Okinawans. To turn a deaf ear to their opposition is absolutely unacceptable. It is incumbent upon the government to listen to, and act upon, the voice of the Okinawan people. 

(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)

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