Okinawa should pursue candid dialogue with central govt on Henoko

The Yomiuri ShimbunDoing nothing but stirring up conflict with the national government will not benefit Okinawa Prefecture. Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki should hold candid talks with the government and consider realistic measures to reduce the burden of hosting U.S. military bases in the prefecture.

The Okinawa prefectural government filed two lawsuits — one in July and the other in August — over a project to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to the Henoko area of Nago.

In 2016, the prefectural government lost an appeal in the Supreme Court over the base transfer plan. Last year, however, the local government retracted its earlier approval of land reclamation work in Henoko, insisting that circumstances had changed because it became known, among other things, that soft ground lies around the site in question.

The lawsuit filed in July held that the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry had illegally revoked the prefectural government’s withdrawal of its previous approval in response to a demand from the Defense Ministry for a grievance review of the local government’s action. The suit focused on the appropriateness of the procedures carried out by the central government.

Meanwhile, the suit filed in August concerns the propriety of the prefectural government’s retraction of its approval.

Eight lawsuits have been filed over the relocation project, including ones filed by Tamaki’s predecessor. “There are many problems with the project,” Tamaki said.

It is hard to understand Tamaki’s approach toward the issue. Despite saying he will attach importance to dialogue with the central government, he has not presented an alternative plan, and instead, he has brought the matter into court to oppose the national government.

Promote continual growth

In the coastal area of Henoko, work to pour earth and sand for reclamation purposes has continued since last December. The government does not need to suspend the work while in litigation. If the legal battle takes a long time, however, there is no dispelling concerns that the ongoing work will be hindered.

The Futenma base is surrounded by schools and residential areas. It is vital not to create such situations as one in which the Futenma facility is perpetuated due to a lack of progress in the relocation project, or in which plans to consolidate and reduce U.S. military facilities as a whole in the prefecture are thwarted.

There is great significance in reducing accident risks and noise-pollution damage by expanding the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab in the northern part of the prefecture, which is thinly populated, and establishing an alternative facility there.

Under the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, part of the Northern Training Area in Kunigamison and Higashison, as well as the West Futenma Housing Area in Ginowan, have been returned to Japan. However, 70 percent of U.S. military facilities in Japan are still concentrated in Okinawa Prefecture.

In preparation for the return of the Futenma base and Naha Port, the government has started studying how to use the sites to be vacated thereafter. Efforts should be made to promote the continual growth of the prefecture while also making steady progress in reducing the burden of hosting military bases there.

The Japanese and U.S. governments have revised guidelines regarding accidents involving U.S. military planes. If there is a plane crash or any other accident outside a military base, the Self-Defense Forces and police authorities will be allowed to access the scene for investigations without delay.

When a large helicopter made an emergency landing and went up in flames in Higashison in 2017, there were delays in the Japanese side’s entering the site. This was seen as a problem, as the Japanese side was not able to determine the cause of the accident and investigate whether the influence of harmful substances was involved. The government must seek to improve the management of the guidelines.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 20, 2019)Speech


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