Ichiro Ozawa, President
The Abe administration has resorted to high-handed measures in resuming a seabed-drilling survey as part of the move to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa prefecture to Henoko in Nago city. The Japan Coast Guard has used exceedingly rough tactics to remove local residents, and there have also been cases of security guards working at U.S. Marine Corps. Camp Schwab detaining citizens protesting against the relocation. I believe that the Abe administration’s repeated use of heavy-handed political tactics with regard to this important political issue is extremely dangerous.
Respecting the will of the people, and carrying out politics in accordance with their wishes is a basic principle of democracy. Of course not everything desired by public opinion is right for the people and for the nation. In real-life political situations, politicians may sometimes have to go against the majority opinion for the sake of the people and of the nation. That is what is meant by parliamentary democracy.
Therefore, it is impossible to state categorically that politicians should always take a particular action just because it is supported by the majority. Despite this caveat, I believe that the heavy-handed methods used by the administration in this case do not have the interests of the Japanese people at heart. Forcing through the relocation of facilities at Futenma to Henoko will not benefit the citizens of Okinawa, or the nation as a whole. Instead, using such methods will simply end up leaving a huge stain on the reputation of Japan and the Japanese people.
The Japanese government states that problems with the relocation of facilities at Futenma to Henoko will have a negative impact on the Japan-U.S. relationship. However, I believe this to be false. Of course, the reservations felt by the United States regarding China’s military expansion are shared by Japan and neighboring countries. It goes without saying that the U.S. military presence in Okinawa is necessary for this reason.
However, the United States is currently engaged in withdrawing its front-line forces not only from Asia but from Europe as well. This is because the United States has shifted from a military strategy which calls for many actual troops to be stationed on the front-line to one which uses rapid reaction forces to respond speedily to emergency situations. The redeployment of marines stationed on Okinawa to Guam and elsewhere is one part of this strategy, and is not being undertaken purely out of consideration for Japan or for Okinawa.
In light of this shift in the United States’ military strategy, I do not believe it should be necessary to build an alternative facility for Futenma at Henoko or to construct a runway there. However, if it is really necessary to have a runway, then there are adequate locations in Okinawa or Honshu which could serve as an alternative. Therefore, I cannot agree with either the shape or form of Prime Minister Abe’s actions in forcing through land reclamation and construction preparations at Henoko.
I do not believe it will be beneficial to the United States to push ahead with building a runway at Henoko, riding roughshod over the opposition of the residents’ of Okinawa, which hosts 74% of U.S. bases in Japan. Even if such a runway is really needed on military grounds, it would entail nothing less than turning into a landfill site a crystal-clear ocean that is home to beautiful corals and is the most-northerly natural habitat for the rare species of dugong, a manatee-like marine mammal. We should all strive to protect Okinawa’s precious natural environment.
If the Abe administration is still determined to implement the relocation to Henoko in spite of this, then they should first engage in thorough discussions with the local authorities. The prefectural governor, who has been duly elected by the residents of Okinawa, has requested a meeting with Prime Minister Abe. For the Prime Minister to refuse to meet him simply because he has a different opinion on the issue, is exceedingly childish. This is behaviour unbefitting the prime minister of a nation, and infantile conduct which makes it difficult to conceive of engaging in proper discussions with him.
Former governor Hirokazu Nakaima may have given his approval for the relocation, but the residents of Okinawa have delivered a “No” verdict to the plan with the result of the subsequent gubernatorial. The current governor, Takeshi Onaga is acting in line with the will of the people of Okinawa by attempting to reopen discussions with central government. It is simply not politics to refuse to engage with him. I cannot describe Prime Minister Abe’s actions as anything other than a denial of democratic politics. What the Japanese government ought to be doing now is first to listen to the opinion of the people of Okinawa, and then to enter into discussions with the United States in order to resolve the issue.
However, if as a result of these negotiations, U.S. forces end up withdrawing from Okinawa, Japan itself must take responsibility for its own defence and decide how to fill the gap. The Abe administration wants to avoid this debate, and may consequently be of the opinion that it would be better to simply go along with what the United States wants. If that is indeed the case, I would describe it as an abandonment of the political process.
Okinawa is extremely important both strategically and geopolitically. Each and every Japanese should think seriously about how we as a nation should bear the burden, if U.S. forces depart leaving a hole that needs to be filled. Rather than expecting the United States to do the work, we should be resolved to share the burden and take responsibility.
Based on the aforementioned assumptions, I believe that we should reduce the U.S. military presence on Okinawa to the minimum possible. If Japan demonstrates a strong resolve to engage in burden-sharing, I believe that the United States will be responsive to discussions. But I am not of the opinion that failure of the relocation to Henoko to take place as planned will immediately have a grave impact on the Japan-U.S. Alliance.
I believe that the use of heavy-handed tactics by central government with regard to the relocation of Futenma will merely serve to create antagonism and mistrust and to increase opposition. The old adage “more haste, less speed” certainly applies here. Prime Minister Abe should engage in thorough discussions, even if this requires more time. If he attempts to forge ahead regardless this will only end in failure and will ultimately have a worse impact on the Japan-U.S. relationship. The Prime Minister and his Office should handle the issue in a conscientious manner, and should also consider it from a broader perspective.