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Dialogue key to reducing burden of hosting U.S. bases in Okinawa

The Yomiuri ShimbunIt is essential to lessen the excessive burden borne by Okinawa Prefecture’s hosting of U.S. military bases. The central and Okinawa prefectural governments should hold repeated dialogue to reduce the burden steadily.

A ceremony was held in the city of Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, on Sunday to commemorate those who died in the Battle of Okinawa during the Pacific War. It is a day to remind ourselves of the terrible damage caused by the war, which engulfed the lives of local residents, and renew our desire for peace.

Speaking at the ceremony, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “The government is resolved to deliver results step by step to reduce the prefecture’s burden of hosting U.S. military bases.”

Under the Abe Cabinet, the return to Japan’s jurisdiction of the 4,000-hectare Northern Training Area — which straddles the villages of Kunigami and Higashi in the prefecture — has been realized. However, about 70 percent of the U.S. bases in Japan are still concentrated in the prefecture. Abe should show leadership and continually work toward consolidating and reducing U.S. military facilities.

The central government should push for the transfer of flight training now conducted in Okinawa to other bases in close cooperation with the U.S. military.

Construction of a facility to replace the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in the city of Ginowan, which is located in an area surrounded by schools and residential houses, is underway in the Henoko coastal district in the city of Nago in the same prefecture. It is highly significant that the relocation will contribute to reducing noise pollution and anxieties about accidents.

End court battles

Chinese government vessels have been active in the waters around the Senkaku Islands in the city of Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture. It is necessary to stay vigilant. Maintaining the deterrence of U.S. military forces stationed in Japan is vital to protect the safety of the country.

It can be said that the plan for the relocation of the Futenma base to Henoko is a realistic option that meets the requirements of both eliminating dangers and ensuring national security.

Reclamation work has been making headway in an area off the Henoko coastal district since soil placement started last December. To thwart the relocation, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki is studying plans to file various lawsuits. If Tamaki continues his confrontation with the central government through repeated court battles as his predecessor did, it will only lead to spreading the turmoil.

It is imperative for the national government to tenaciously promote the significance of relocation through consultative talks with the Okinawa prefectural and Ginowan municipal governments.

Abe and Tamaki must try to communicate with each other. Both need to work out a breakthrough based on the common recognition that the dangers of the Futenma base must be removed.

In Okinawa Prefecture, there has been no end to the occurrence of criminal incidents and serious road traffic accidents involving U.S. servicemen and civilian employees at U.S. bases. The central government must continue to urge the U.S. side to strictly enforce discipline.

Improving the livelihood of residents is also an important task for the prefecture. The tourism in Okinawa is robust but its economy as a whole is fragile. The prefecture’s per capita income is the lowest in the nation and there are many cases of nonregular workers being employed in the prefecture.

It will be necessary to undertake such projects as the improvement of transportation infrastructure, attracting companies to the prefecture and fostering human resources. Tamaki is called on to pursue policies in cooperation with the national government while looking ahead to the future of Okinawa.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2019)Speech



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