Government must work to reduce Okinawa U.S. base-hosting burdens
The government must make utmost efforts to steadily ease the burden that hosting U.S. military bases places on Okinawa Prefecture.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended a memorial service on Monday for those killed in the war commemorating the 69 years since the end of the Battle of Okinawa, which raged just before the Pacific War came to an end in 1945.
In a speech at the ceremony, Abe said: “We will give consideration to the feelings of the people of Okinawa and will do our best to reduce their burden for hosting the bases, while assuming a stance of carrying out what we can do as much as possible.”
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima last December approved a reclamation project necessary to transfer the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to the Henoko coastal district in Nago. Nakaima had previously called for “relocation to a place outside Okinawa” in a peace declaration at the ceremony for three consecutive years, 2011-13. This year, however, he changed his wording to shift away from insistence on a plan for relocation outside of Okinawa.
His difficult about-face on the matter came as strong calls persist among prefectural residents for relocation outside of Okinawa. To show good faith in supporting Nakaima after his wrenching decision, the government must implement various measures to reduce the prefecture’s burden in hosting U.S. military bases.
The Futenma issue is expected to be a major topic of contention in November’s gubernatorial election, as Nakaima’s term in office ends. Nakaima remains uncommitted on whether he will run for a third term. At the same time, the conservative mayor of Naha, an opponent of the Henoko relocation plan, has been seeking to run in the election.
To minimize the impact of the gubernatorial election results on the relocation plan, it is imperative to take every possible measure.
Advance return of Futenma
The central government reportedly plans to begin boring as part of soil investigations at the planned reclamation site in July and to advance construction work on replacement facilities ahead of schedule as much as possible. It is imperative that the planned return of Futenma Air Station and associated land to Japan, targeted for fiscal 2022 and onward, be advanced as much as possible by speeding design and construction.
Tokyo and Washington agreed last week to restrict entry into the area scheduled for land reclamation and the surrounding waters at all times.
This may be an inevitable step to preclude obstruction by opponents and avoid unexpected confusion. To help promote the work, not only the Defense Ministry but also the National Police Agency, as well as the Japan Coast Guard and other relevant organizations, must join hands in taking all possible measures.
The government is also looking into the possibility of drastically pushing forward the return of Camp Kinser in Makiminato, which has been targeted for return to Japan in 2024-25 or later.
Japan and the United States have also been negotiating to conclude a new agreement under which environmental surveys for U.S. bases to be returned to Japan would be conducted in advance. This could amount to a de facto revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. If such a change were to be realized, it would have a great significance.
As for training involving the U.S. military’s MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft deployed at the Futenma base, efforts must be made to move more training to areas outside of Okinawa Prefecture. It is essential that the prefecture’s heavy burden be shared broadly across the whole of Japan.
Moving forward with the realignment of U.S. bases in Okinawa, while maintaining deterrence capabilities of U.S. troops, and completing this work in conjunction with regional development, will be an important part of reinforcing trust between the Abe administration and the local governments and residents of Okinawa.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2014)