Editorial: Talk of base burden reduction in PM Abe’s policy speech is a sham

September 27, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

If those imposing a burden intend to seriously think about reducing such burden, they must listen sufficiently to the opinions of the local people, and endeavor to realize a solution to the problems they experience.

Unilaterally forcing a “burden reduction” policy on locals who refuse the policy on the grounds that it itself constitutes a burden would not hold water in ordinary society. Yet when it comes to government policy, this is exactly what is happening.

In his general policy speech before the Diet, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the return of 4,000 hectares constituting a portion of the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area would entail “a nearly 20% reduction of U.S. military facilities within Okinawa Prefecture, the largest land return since Okinawa came back under Japanese administration. This is achievable as a result of relocating helipads comprising 0.96 hectares of land to within the existing training area.”

Abe claims that this measure will constitute a “reduction of the base burden” faced by Okinawa, but he is oversimplifying the issue.

Of the six helipads that are set to be built surrounding the hamlet of Takae in Higashi Village, two have already been completed. U.S. military training using these two helipads has caused nighttime noise to intensify, causing some children to miss school as a result of lack of sleep. Building the other four helipads will further cause locals to suffer from the noise.

This is the “burden reduction” of which the prime minister speaks. A look at the situation in Takae makes it clear that “burden reduction” consisting of land return conditioned on relocation of the facilities therein is merely a sham.

The land being returned is land for which the U.S. military no longer has use. In other words, the return is not being carried out with the objective of “burden reduction.” Nonetheless, the prime minister focuses solely on the area of the land to be returned, claiming the partial return of land in conjunction with the construction of new helipads to be a “reduction of burden.” This runs the risk of causing misunderstanding among the people of Japan.

The prime minister also stated that “We cannot put this off. By surely achieving results one by one, we will open up the future for Okinawa.”

Abe is essentially implying that for the sake of “Okinawa’s future,” residents of Takae must accept the noise arising from U.S. military training. It is hard to imagine that the residents of Takae, or any of the people in Okinawa, are included in the “future of Okinawa” of which the prime minister speaks.
The prime minister said that “it is the people of Japan, not the government, who will decide” regarding constitutional revision. With respect to the U.S. bases in Okinawa as well, he should take seriously the views of Okinawans, who are among the people of Japan.

In his policy speech, the prime minister made no reference to the construction of a new U.S. base in Henoko, Nago City. It is a mistake if he believes that the issue has been settled because the national government was victorious in the illegality confirmation lawsuit fought over the cancellation of authorization to reclaim land in Henoko.

In order to open up “Okinawa’s future,” it is necessary for the governor and people of Okinawa to continue to refuse the construction of new helipads and a new base.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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