September 20, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Put new base survey on hold till after Okinawa gubernatorial election
社説:辺野古掘削調査 知事選まで作業中断を

One month has passed since the Defense Ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau began a boring survey on the seabed off the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, in preparation to build a substitute facility for the U.S. military's Air Station Futenma.

We are concerned about the way in which the national government is pressing forward with the project as if it is overriding resistance from local residents and creating a fait accompli one after another.

To avoid further deepening the rift within Okinawa, the central government should suspend the boring survey to see how voters in the southernmost prefecture will react to the project through the Nov. 16 Okinawa gubernatorial election.
The national government initially planned to launch a boring survey in 2004 but its attempt was blocked by opponents. As such, the government is guarding the site by designating a larger area off Henoko as an off-limit zone, and has come under fire from opponents of the project and others for being on excessively high alert.

The government's tough stance is supported by the fact that Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima granted the government permission to reclaim offshore areas of Henoko.

However, Nakaima deserves criticism that he violated his campaign pledge that he would stick to his demand that Futenma base, situated in a densely populated area of the city of Ginowan, be moved out of the prefecture.

Numerous Okinawa residents reacted sharply to Nakaima's about-face. In January this year, Nago voters re-elected Mayor Susumu Inamine, who is opposed to the relocation of Futenma base to Henoko, while pro-mayor candidates won a majority in the municipal assembly in a recent election.

Furthermore, the prefectural assembly adopted a resolution on Sept. 3 protesting against the national government for going ahead with the boring survey and calling for an immediate halt to the work, with the support of not only four opposition parties but also New Komeito that supports Nakaima.

Such being the case, whether Nakaima's decision reflects local residents' views on the issue will be a key point of contention in the upcoming gubernatorial race.

However, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears unwilling to listen to local communities' opinions on the issue.

Rather, it appears that the stiffer local residents' opposition grows to the project, the further the Abe administration presses forward with the work on the substitute facility for Futenma base in a bid to prevent Nakaima's possible election loss from adversely affecting the project.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a recent news conference, "Primary attention had been focused on whether the Okinawa Prefectural Government would approve the reclamation, but it's already a past concern." However, the remark Suga made as if he dismissed opposition to the project can hardly convince local residents.

In an article he contributed to the U.S. news site The Huffington Post last month, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye pointed out that as China's ballistic missile technology advances, U.S. bases in Okinawa Prefecture become increasingly vulnerable. He also pointed to Okinawa residents' anger at the burden of U.S. bases on them, and called for reconsidering the structure of the Japan-U.S. alliance, such as the way U.S. forces should be deployed in the Japanese archipelago.

Why does the national government view the planned construction of a substitute facility for the Air Station Futenma off Henoko as the only way to settle the issue of relocating the base while even an expert in diplomacy and security like Nye has made such a proposal?

The government bears responsibility to provide a sufficient explanation to Okinawa residents. As such, the boring survey should be put on hold until after the gubernatorial election.

毎日新聞 2014年09月20日 02時30分