Japan hears U.S. cautions over handling Futenma
Fearful of increased local opposition to the relocation of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, a U.S. congressional think tank is speaking out to both Japanese and American government officials warning them to be careful how they deal with the project.
The Congressional Research Service has been observing reports of increased opposition to the Futenma relocation from Ginowan City to northern Okinawa, and is expressing concerns those protests could increase in the future. Accordingly, the Service is telling officials of both nations “Any heavy-handed actions by Tokyo or Washington could lead to stridently anti-base politicians making gains in Okinawa, particularly in the gubernatorial election scheduled for November.”
The upcoming election finds Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who late last year approved the land reclamation process necessary to create the new airfield in Oura Bay adjacent to Camp Schwab, announcing plans to run for a third term. Political observers say Nakaima’s taking the unprecedented election move at age 74 to preserve the base relocation project. His principal opponent is Naha City Mayor Takeshi Onaga, who is firmly opposed to any new bases being built or relocated on Okinawa. Also in the running is independent politician and lawmaker Mikio Shimoji, who seeks to have the base relocation issue be settled by a referendum.
Nakaima’s decision to grant the landfill permits for the base relocation also brought comments from the Congressional Research Service, which said “The United States and Japan cleared an important political hurdle in their long-delayed plan to relocate the Futenma base, but despite this progress, many challenges remain to implementation.” The think tank researchers note “most Okinawans oppose the construction of a new U.S. base for a mix of political, environmental and quality-of-life reasons.”
The Congressional Research Service concedes that “Now that Nakaima has approved the landfill permit, it is unclear what authority any future governor would have to overturn this decision,” adding, though, that “some observers suggest that a future governor could reject the approval on grounds the environmental impact assessment of the base site was incorrect.”
A big issue looming before the Japanese government is Nakaima’s demand that Futenma cease operations within five years, and that the Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Japan be modified to permit on-base environmental investigations by prefectural officials. The Congressional Research Service believes “the extent to which the Japanese government can meet Nakaima’s demands will likely influence how Okinawans ultimately will judge his approval of the landfill permit.”