2014: Government to Offer Rationale on Henoko

Okinawa. Henoko. Camp Schwab. 

Government should offer convincing rationale, or freeze Henoko relocation

Asahi Shimbun
August 25, 2014

The seabed drilling survey has begun in the sea off Henoko in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, the planned reclamation site for relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is currently located in Ginowan in the same prefecture. The Japan Coast Guard and the Okinawa Defense Bureau are closely guarding the area.

Protesters are increasingly incensed by their aggressive treatment at the hands of the authorities; citizens are taking to the sea in boats and canoes to protest the drilling, and in response, the authorities are forcibly driving them away, pinning them down and forcibly restraining them.

On Aug. 23, according to the organizers, 3,600 people participated in a meeting outside the gates of U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab, protesting the relocation of the air station.

Local citizens came from all over the prefecture in more than 30 chartered buses. Many of the participants were with their families. Some participants came from the business community.

At the rally, Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine pointed out, “The sight of the Coast Guard ships filling this sea is reminiscent of the scene 69 years ago when (U.S.) military ships surrounded the island to invade Okinawa.”

An elderly citizen said, “This reminds me of the Battle of Okinawa when we were bombarded by enemy ships.” The government should try to imagine what that feels like.

The Coast Guard explains that it is keeping the protesters’ ships away from the buoys that mark the restricted waters because “it is dangerous.” On the other hand, people who appear to be associated with the U.S. military are swimming within the buoys, but the Coast Guard did not even approach them to warn them off.

Okinawa citizens cannot have faith in the “deterrence” argument that the government uses to explain the rationale for having U.S. bases in Okinawa.

With advances in military technology, is it still absolutely necessary to concentrate military bases in Okinawa? Now that the government has come up with a plan to temporarily redeploy a fleet of the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft from the Futenma air station to an airport in Saga Prefecture, does that mean that the government itself has admitted it is unnecessary to have so many U.S. bases in Okinawa?

The root of all the problems lies in the unfair situation where 74 percent of the U.S. bases in Japan are situated in Okinawa, despite the fact that Okinawa constitutes only 0.6 percent of Japan’s land mass. To begin with, the U.S. Marines in Okinawa are there because of the fierce anti-base movements that took place on the mainland. The bases were moved to Okinawa before it was returned to Japanese sovereignty.

If the government still insists Okinawa should have yet another U.S. base, despite being aware of this injustice, then at least it should cease the drilling survey in Henoko and address the residents’ concerns in good faith.

Okinawa is scheduled to have a gubernatorial election in November, and the Henoko relocation plan is expected to become the most important item on the agenda. If government officials are rushing the survey work in hopes that this will help them in the election, then, at the moment, it is running totally against their expectations.

On Aug. 22, the Naha city assembly adopted a resolution urging the government to abandon the relocation plan. The prefectural assembly is considering following suit and passing a resolution of protest. The gap between the central government and Okinawa is widening, including the local conservative camps.

Forceful use of power will only lead to serious problems. If the government cannot offer an explanation that the people of Okinawa can understand, then the Henoko relocation must be put on ice.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 24


Japan Coast Guard officers transport a protester on their boat after detaining him from a canoe off Henoko, Okinawa Prefecture, on Aug. 15. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)