Strike balance between deterrence, reducing Okinawa's US base burden

by The Japan News/Yomiuri
Stripes Okinawa

Maintaining the deterrence power of the U.S. military is indispensable to securing peace for Japan. At the same time, it is necessary to reduce the excessive burdens imposed on Okinawa Prefecture for hosting U.S. bases. Striking a balance between these two is essential.

A memorial service to mourn all the people who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa was held in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, on Friday - the 72nd anniversary of the day on which the battle's systematic fighting is said to have ended near the end of World War II.

Bearing in mind 200,000 lives were lost in the battle, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in his address to the ceremony, "The ravages of war should never be repeated." He then emphasized that he would make wholehearted efforts to maintain peace.

Referring to Okinawa's burden of hosting U.S. bases, Abe said: "The status quo is far from tolerable. We will not fail to make progress in lightening the burden."

A key factor in reducing the burden is realizing the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in the central area of the city of Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture. Shore protection work in preparation for land reclamation is under way in the Henoko district of the city of Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture, to which the air station will be relocated.

The relocation must be carried out steadily to eliminate the danger of an accident occurring in populated Ginowan and to end the damage caused by noise pollution there.

The existence of Futenma Air Station also disrupts the flow of traffic. Based on the 2015 Japan-U.S. agreement, about four hectares of land on the east side of the air station will come back under Japanese jurisdiction in July. The land is scheduled to be transformed into municipal roads, which could be of help to residents.

Efforts must be accelerated to return other U.S. military facilities in the populated southern area of Okinawa Prefecture to Japan's jurisdiction.

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga again strongly called for reducing the prefecture's burden of hosting U.S. bases in a peace declaration he read during the memorial ceremony. He referred to the Henoko relocation issue again this year and criticized the central government's handling of the issue, saying, "We cannot tolerate the status quo in which the relocation plan has been forced through without considering the wishes of the people of Okinawa."

Making an assertion with a strong political tone on the occasion of mourning the war dead and praying for peace must be called into question.

The Henoko relocation plan is the only realistic solution. It was agreed upon after many years of planning involving the Japanese and U.S. governments and relevant local municipalities. The people of Okinawa are not uniformly opposed to the plan, as indicated by the fact that it was conditionally approved by three local districts.

Onaga's decision to file another suit against the central government seeking an injunction on the construction work also must be called into question.

The move is an attempt to make an issue of the government's continuation of shore work even after the period in which the prefectural government permitted the crushing of rock reefs expired in March. It is said that the prefectural government will file a suit in the middle of next month at the earliest, after the related bills are approved by the prefectural assembly.

But areas that require permission to crush rock reefs are limited to licensed fishing grounds. Given that the local fisheries cooperative has relinquished its fishery rights, the Fisheries Agency presented the view that there is no need to obtain permission. Does Onaga have legal grounds to overturn this?

The central and Okinawa prefectural governments, in a court-mediated settlement reached in March last year, pledged "to follow a final court judgment and cooperate with each other sincerely." Despite the prefectural government losing a suit on administrative subrogation in a Supreme Court ruling last December, Onaga is trying to again fight a legal battle over the issue. His decision can be deemed an attempt to disregard the agreement between the central and prefectural governments, that involved judicial authorities.

This editorial appeared in Saturday's Yomiuri Shimbun.

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