The Yomiuri ShimbunOkinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga has passed away. As he was a politician who made an impression on people with his strong leadership, it is regrettable that only the confrontation between Onaga and the central government was focused on.
Onaga underwent surgery in April to remove a cancerous pancreatic tumor. Even after leaving the hospital, he continued to perform his public duties while receiving anticancer drug treatment.
He locked horns with the central government by opposing the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to the Henoko district of Nago. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga extended his condolences at a press conference, saying that Onaga “was a man of strong belief,” while also acknowledging the differences in his position from the government’s.
Onaga, who had had a stint of serving as the secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Okinawa prefectural chapter, exhibited his abilities in the 2014 gubernatorial election. Campaigning on a platform intent on blocking the Futenma relocation, he managed to rally some conservative elements and left wing forces in what was referred to as the “All Okinawa” movement. Thanks to the unprecedented conservative-left wing alliance, Onaga was elected to his first term in office with a huge margin over the then incumbent governor.
After taking office, Oanga nullified in 2015 the previous governor’s approval of reclamation work off Henoko. Even after losing the case at the Supreme Court in 2016, he continued court battles with the central government, saying that he would “resort to all means possible to block the reclamation work.”
Keeping a distance from the outcome of the judicial judgment, Onaga assumed a stance of making full use of his powers as governor. Although there was an aspect of his political style of seemingly stoking confrontation with the central government, it will be remembered that he embodied the consciousness of people in Okinawa Prefecture who have suffered the burden of hosting bases.
Henoko relocation only option
As to how to deal with the Henoko relocation issue, it seems that both the central and prefectural governments will be forced to reexamine the plan in the months ahead.
In an attempt to block landfill work planned for the reclamation by the central government off Henoko, Onaga presented a policy of withdrawing his predecessor’s approval of the work and thus canceling it. The prefectural government held a hearing on Thursday to listen to the opinions of the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau, a necessary procedure for the withdrawal of the approval.
Based on the results of the hearing, the prefectural government is expected to decide whether to call for a withdrawal soon. Attention will be focused on what decision will be made by the vice governor, who is serving as acting governor.
The Futenma base, which is surrounded by residential houses, is exposed constantly to the risks that accidents will occur involving residents in its vicinity. Recent accidents include parts falling from an airborne U.S. military helicopter. The central government, for its part, should make continued efforts to reduce Okinawa’s burden of hosting U.S. bases.
The only way to achieve an early elimination of the risks involving Futenma base, while maintaining the deterrence the U.S. military provides, is the relocation of it.
In the wake of Onaga’s death, the Okinawa gubernatorial election is likely to be moved forward to September. The LDP’s Okinawa prefectural chapter has decided to field Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima as a candidate. The Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, who supported Onaga, will accelerate their efforts to select candidates. Shigenobu Asato, a conservative, is also showing a keen interest in running in the election.
Although the Henoko relocation issue will become a bone of contention in the gubernatorial poll, candidates are called on to discuss a wide range of issues, including the regional economy and employment security, so that the election can provide an opportunity to depict Okinawa’s future image.