Futenma land return a mere 0.8%–calling for operations to be suspended within five years and all land returned in full

December 6, 2015 Ryukyu Shimpo

The U.S. and Japanese governments recently agreed on the return of two small slivers of land totaling 7 hectares, a mere 0.031% of the total 22,370 hectares of Okinawan land being used exclusively for U.S. military facilities. Is this really the “visible progress” Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga claims it to be?

After meeting at the prime minister’s official residence, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy held a press conference where they announced they had agreed to allow partial shared use of the Industrial Corridor area of Camp Zukeran (Camp Foster), as well as the return of approximately four hectares of land on the eastern side of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma, and approximately three hectares of land on the edge of the Makiminato Service Area adjacent to Route 58. Under the agreement, the land will be returned some time during 2017.

By holding a press conference together, the chief cabinet secretary and the U.S. ambassador likely hoped to make a show of their efforts to reduce the burden of bases shouldered by Okinawa. However, the land being returned is a mere 0.8% of MCAS Futenma. The return will not contribute to a reduction in the danger posed by Futenma. The two government representatives can’t avoid accusations that they are exaggerating the progress being made. If they really intend to eliminate the danger posed by Futenma, the base should cease operations within five years and the land should be returned in full.

The return of four hectares of land on the eastern side of Futenma was agreed upon at the U.S.-Japan joint committee meeting in June 1990. The return of three hectares of land on the edge of the Makiminato Service Area bordering Route 58 was also agreed upon years ago, as part of the SACO (Special Action Committee on Okinawa) agreement of 1996. The aim of the agreed return was to widen the highway.

Local governments have long requested the return of these parcels of land in order to ease traffic on major highways and secure access roads. The return has been a pending issue for decades, and should have been solved 20 to 25 years ago. It is only a matter of course that the land is finally being returned.

There is nothing new about the discussion of returning these particular bits of land, so why the sudden announcement? At the press conference, Secretary Suga described the negotiations between Japan and the U.S. and repeatedly stated that “the city of Ginowan has long requested [the return of this land],” emphasizing that he is responding to requests by the Ginowan city government. If his aim was to encourage support of the incumbent in January’s Ginowan mayoral election, it is nothing but the degradation of politics.

Finally, the true aim of the statement of agreement between the Japanese and U.S. governments was to reaffirm that the construction of a new military base in Henoko is “the only solution.” Political negotiations are supposed to be an effort toward solving an issue of contention. Using the word “only” is no different than saying they have no desire to negotiate and refuse to give the issue any further consideration.

After pushing the burden of U.S. bases on Okinawa for 70 years, the Japanese government is now so determined to push forward with the construction of a new base that it has sued the governor of Okinawa in an attempt to approve the construction in his stead. The government then exaggerates the progress represented by the return of mere slivers of land, implying that Okinawa should be grateful. This is precisely the “degeneration of politics” that Governor Takeshi Onaga has described.

(Translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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