Tamaki must stop fruitless confrontation with central govt

Continuing to engage in an unproductive confrontation with the central government over the issue of the relocation of U.S. military facilities will certainly not lead to the development of the prefecture as a whole. The governor should see the bigger picture and seek a way out of the situation.

In the Okinawa gubernatorial election, incumbent Denny Tamaki, who received the endorsement of four national opposition parties including the main one, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, was reelected, defeating two candidates seeking their first election to the office, including one endorsed by the national ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.

The main issue in the election was the plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in the city of Ginowan to the Henoko coastal area of the city of Nago.

After winning reelection, Tamaki, who opposes the relocation as he did during his first term, emphasized his opposition to the plan, saying, “Given the mandate from the people of the prefecture, I will present our demands to the central government.”

The relocation plan continues to get off track. Only about 30% of the sea area planned for reclamation has been reclaimed since operations started at the end of 2018, but areas of weak seabed that need reinforcement work remain untouched.

In 2020, the Defense Ministry applied to the prefectural government for design changes to reinforce the weak seabed, but Tamaki did not approve the application. The prefectural government has filed a lawsuit against the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry’s directive to overturn the prefectural government’s decision, resulting in another legal battle.

Futenma Air Station, surrounded by residences and schools, has even been described as “the most dangerous base in the world.”

Tamaki needs to present a plan that offers a realistic solution on how he intends to eliminate the dangers of Futenma.

With the expiration of the central government’s 2013 promise to keep the Okinawa promotion budget above ¥300 billion, the allocation has fallen below that amount for the current fiscal year. The prefecture’s business community has been voicing its disappointment. The income of the prefecture’s residents has not been able to escape from the lowest level in Japan. The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a major blow to the tourism industry.

The prefecture’s residents cannot hope to improve their lives if the governor simply persists with the relocation issue, despite the fact that his position is to lead the prefectural administration. It is important to promote growth through the development of social infrastructure, including transportation networks, and nurture highly competitive industries such as the information technology sector.

The governor, in cooperation with the central government, has a responsibility to present a clear vision for the future of the prefecture.

Approximately 70% of the U.S. military facilities in Japan still remain concentrated in Okinawa Prefecture. The central government’s efforts to reduce the burden on Okinawa are also called into question.

In 2014, the central government negotiated with the United States to relocate airborne refueling tankers deployed at Futenma Air Station to the U.S. Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture. In 2016, Tokyo and Washington agreed to relocate some training for the Osprey transport aircraft to the U.S. mainland and the U.S. territory of Guam.

Recently, however, the central government has not had any notable outcomes. The central government needs to persistently make efforts to realign and downsize U.S. military bases in Japan. Local governments outside Okinawa must also actively accept the relocation of training sites.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 13, 2022)