Editorial: With U.S. trip, governor needs strategy for breakthrough on new base issue

January 31, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo

Governor Takeshi Onaga has departed for his third trip to the United States since taking office. He will visit Congress members and think tanks that have influence on the new Trump administration and call for abandonment of the plan to build a new base in conjunction with the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko, Nago.

Compared to his previous two trips, Governor Onaga is now facing a headwind. Okinawa lost a lawsuit brought against it by the national government and was forced to reverse its action to prevent the base construction. The Abe administration has resumed construction at sea and is increasing pressure on Okinawa.

In addition, Governor Onaga’s right-hand man in dealing with the base issues, Vice Governor Mitsuo Ageda, recently resigned amid suspicions that he used his position to intervene in the hiring of public schoolteachers, dealing a blow to the prefectural administration. The Onaga administration is in a state of confusion and urgently needs to get back on its feet.

In order to resolve this challenging situation, the governor and All-Okinawa Coalition members who are accompanying him to the United States must take strategic action and not be tied down by conventional conceptions.

More than 70% of Okinawans continue to oppose the construction of a new base, which will harm the natural environment and people’s lives, making it absurd to follow through with the plan. The recent Osprey crash also sent shockwaves throughout Okinawa. The governor should explain these things clearly. U.S. bases in Okinawa are operated under flagrant double standards, as seen from the implementation of drills that involve suspending objects below aircraft directly over residential areas, which would be unthinkable in the United States or Europe. This threatens the universal value of human rights, and the governor must convey this fact as well.

Trump’s national security team features former military officers, specifically a former Marines, in positions of power. As Secretary of Defense, Trump appointed former Marine Corps General James Mattis, who has been nicknamed “mad dog”, and as Secretary of Homeland Security, he appointed former Marine Corps General John Kelly. On the National Security Council, the senior director for Asia is Matthew Pottinger, a former Marine.

With former Marines in positions of political power, the Marines will have strong influence on the government and Congress. We cannot deny the possibility that they will view the Henoko base as a vested interest and refuse to compromise.

It is thought that the Trump administration will follow in the footsteps of the Obama administration’s Asia-focused policy. However, it has yet to be seen how the new administration will handle specific issues such as the Henoko relocation or a possible request for an increase in Japan’s financial burden for the U.S. base presence.

Meanwhile, in Congress, Senator John McCain (Republican), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, appears ready to seriously consider steps toward closing and reorganizing U.S. bases in the United States and abroad, and this could impact U.S. bases in Okinawa as well.

We don’t know that sort of security policy will be advanced by Trump, with his “America first” policy of pursuing national interests. Okinawa must be prepared for whatever happens, while simultaneously rebuilding a strategy of our own.

Building a new base will increase resistance from Okinawans and will likely hinder stable operation of U.S. bases in Okinawa in the long term. It is as important as ever for the governor to continue making overtures to the United States.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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