Govt needs to make unified efforts to reduce burden on Okinawa
To reduce the excessive burden on Okinawa Prefecture of hosting U.S. military bases, the government must make unified efforts.
On Sunday, the 68th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa during World War II, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the prefecture and attended a memorial ceremony held to console the souls of those who died in the battle.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and Ichita Yamamoto, state minister for Okinawa affairs, also attended the ceremony. It marked the first participation by foreign and defense ministers since such ceremonies were first held in 1962.
To tackle the Okinawa issues, it is essential that the ministries concerned closely cooperate with each other and coordinate views with local governments in a multitiered manner.
Following the ceremony, Abe said his government would implement measures to reduce the burden of Okinawa “visibly.” With regard to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station, Abe said the Futenma base should not be permanently used. “We’d like to make efforts to realize the relocation of the base as soon as possible,” he said.
The governments of Japan and the United States announced in early April that the tracts of land, more than 1,000 hectares when combined, that are now used for the six U.S. military facilities in the southern part of the prefecture will be returned to Japan over the next 10 to 16 years.
The quickest way to reduce Okinawa’s burden of hosting the U.S. bases is to steadily implement this plan. It is particularly important to realize the relocation of Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to the Henoko area of Nago.
Both governments agreed on June 13 that the return of the residential area of western Futenma used by Camp Zukeran in Ginowan, originally scheduled for next fiscal year, would be carried out within this year.
This can be highly evaluated as part of the government’s efforts to improve the environment for Okinawa Gov. Yoshikazu Nakaima to approve the reclamation of land from public waters, planned in line with the relocation of the air station to the Henoko coastal area.
It is important for the central and local governments to hold talks over those areas that are to be vacated with the return of the U.S. military facilities and discuss ways to use them more efficiently. Such efforts should be made in tandem with the implementation of various measures designed to promote the local economies of Okinawa. They would certainly enhance the significance of the return of the U.S. bases to Japan.
Promotion of economy
After the ceremony, Abe and Nakaima exchanged views over how to promote the Okinawa economy. While fostering their relationship of trust, Abe should win a broader understanding of Nakaima over the Futenma relocation to the Henoko district.
On the other hand, the reduction of Okinawa’s burden of hosting U.S. bases should be made, in principle, while maintaining the deterrence of the U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa Prefecture.
This is essential because the ability to respond rapidly and maintain mobility of the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. forces stationed in Japan has become more important in the light of the nuclear and missile development by North Korea and the rapid military buildup and aggressive actions of China.
The town assembly of Yonaguni, Okinawa Prefecture, approved on Thursday the lease of land to the central government needed for the deployment of a Ground Self-Defense Force unit on the Yonaguni Island to monitor coastal areas.
The Defense Ministry and the town were once at odds over the payment of cooperation expenses to the town concerning the deployment of the GSDF unit. But they are expected to conclude the lease contract later this week.
For both the SDF and the U.S. forces in Japan to operate effectively, it is essential for both to build stable and amicable relations with local officials concerned. The Defense Ministry needs to continuously deepen its ties with Okinawa by making use of various opportunities in the days ahead.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2013)