Opposition to Henoko relocation unchanged

The Yomiuri Shimbun

This is the sixth installment of a series looking at various aspects of Okinawa today, 50 years since Tokyo and Washington agreed on its return to Japan. In this installment, The Yomiuri Shimbun interviews Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki about issues related to U.S. military bases in the prefecture.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: The Okinawa prefectural government opposes the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station from Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago. But if the relocation work is delayed, that will also delay the return of the Futenma base.

Denny Tamaki: My pledge for the gubernatorial election campaign, “not to allow a new base to be built in Henoko,” remains unchanged. The relocation to Henoko is technically and financially difficult. We are not bound by the central government’s view that “Henoko is the only site for the relocation.” We will seek a solution through dialogue with the central government toward moving the Futenma Air Station outside the prefecture and outside the country.

Soft seabed was discovered at the planned relocation area, and the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau has applied to the Okinawa prefectural government for design changes to the plan concerning the relocation. So far, the prefectural government has asked questions and received answers on the stability of the seabed and seawall, and on the environmental impact three times. As part of our rigorous review, we are currently asking the bureau a fourth round of questions.

Q: The 2009-2010 administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, of the then Democratic Party of Japan, also sought to relocate the base outside the prefecture, but gave up on the idea. Does the prefectural government have a concrete plan for an alternative to Henoko?

A: Regarding where to move U.S. troops stationed in the prefecture, this is something that should be discussed by the Japanese and U.S. governments.

Q: It has been 50 years since the signing of the Okinawa Reversion Agreement. How do you view the current status of U.S. military bases?

A: The people of [Okinawa] suffered greatly under U.S. military rule and longed for the prefecture’s reversion to Japan.

However, the reversion accord allowed the U.S. military to continue to use U.S. military facilities. Now we are in a highly unusual situation where 70.3% of U.S. military facilities in Japan are still concentrated in Okinawa Prefecture, which comprises about 0.6% of Japan’s total area. This is far from the idea of a “peaceful island without bases” that many Uchinanchu [Okinawans] envisioned before the reversion.

Incidents, accidents, noise and environmental damage involving the U.S. military continue. U.S. military bases are currently concentrated in the more populous central and southern parts of Okinawa Island, which, I believe, hinders economic development.

Still, most Okinawan people have created a new culture by incorporating elements of American culture. It is not that most people in the prefecture dislike U.S. troops. The people of the prefecture hope to find a way to solve the issues surrounding the operation of the U.S. military and how things should be.

Q: China has intensified its hegemonic activities, and the importance of U.S. forces in the prefecture is also increasing.

A: The prefecture understands that the Japan-U.S. alliance has contributed to peace and stability in Japan and East Asia. We also fully understand that the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region has become increasingly severe in recent years.

However, in the event of a contingency between the United States and China, I have grave concerns that Okinawa, where U.S. military bases are concentrated, will become a priority target. I hope the central government will make a diplomatic effort to ease tensions between the two countries and work toward establishing true security in a way that is possible only by Japan.

Q: Conservatives have moved away from the so-called All Okinawa group that serves as your support base. Has the left-right alliance collapsed?

A: Some companies and other entities have distanced themselves from All Okinawa, but I feel there are many conservatives who support me behind closed doors. The unaffiliated people who participate in All Okinawa are not influenced by either a conservative or a left-wing ideology in the first place.

Q: Do you want the special measures law on the promotion and development of Okinawa, which is set to expire this fiscal year, to be extended?

A: A higher proportion of grants for public works, lump-sum payments the prefecture can use as it sees fit and other benefits based on the special measures law are part of a multilayered system that helps turn Okinawa’s geographical disadvantages into advantages. I want to request the central government to continue and expand these measures.

Under the next Okinawa promotion plan starting next fiscal year, I want to create an environmentally friendly system for tourism, which is a core industry for Okinawa, and make the prefecture one of the world’s foremost sustainable tourist destinations by incorporating the principles of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki

Tamaki was born in Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture. He graduated from the Sophia School of Social Welfare. His real name is Yasuhiro Tamaki. After stints in the entertainment industry and Okinawa city council, he was elected to the House of Representatives as a member of the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan in 2009. He served four terms in the lower house and held posts including secretary-general of the Liberal Party. He ran for and was elected governor in 2018 after the death of Gov. Takeshi Onaga. He is 61 years old.