The governor of Okinawa has used a trip to Washington to reiterate his opposition to the heavy presence of US military bases on the island, urging all Japanese citizens to rethink security arrangements between Tokyo and Washington.
Outspoken Governor Takeshi Onaga arrived in the US earlier this week, holding a press conference to convey his discontent with the high number of US military bases in Okinawa, which hosts 74 percent of Japan’s total US military presence.
“I think all Japanese citizens should think about the Japan-US security arrangements. US military bases occupy 6 percent of the whole of Japan and 70 percent of those US military bases are in places where the population density is about the same as Tokyo. I don’t like it anymore…” he said in response to a question from RT’s Gayane Chichakyan at a press conference.
He went on to cite jet crashes related to the US bases, as well as sexual assaults which have been linked to US soldiers since World War II.
Onaga and citizens of Okinawa have long protested the heavy presence of US military bases and troops on the island, with mass demonstrations drawing thousands last year.
Of particular concern is the planned relocation of the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station from Ginowan to the less-populated area of Henoko, in Nago.
Onaga is against the relocation, stating it would destroy the environment of the bay surrounding the new site.
In December, the governor was defeated in a lawsuit filed by the central government regarding the air station, with Japan’s Supreme Court finding that it was illegal for Onaga to revoke the approval granted by his predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, for land reclamation required to build replacement runways at the new base.
But Okinawans could soon see their hopes answered, if President Donald Trump follows through with a campaign statement in which he said that he wants foreign nations to pay for US presence and protection in those countries.
Instead of seeing Trump’s statement as a threat, Okinawa policy adviser Moritake Tomikawa said a withdrawal of US troops would suit Okinawans just fine.
“Mr. Trump says if Japan doesn’t pay more than he’s going to withdraw the troops from Japan. As far as Okinawa people are concerned, that’s fine…” he said.
It is unclear, however, where Trump stands on the specific Okinawa issue. The new defense secretary, James Mattis, is currently in Japan, though his views on the issue also remain unclear.
Japan spends an estimated $1.5 billion a year on the US bases, while Washington dished out around $5.5 billion in 2016, according to the Pentagon.
Protest sign urging global conservation meeting to address the environmental damage from U.S. military bases. (Photo by Ann Wright)
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has come in for criticism due to its lack of attention to the detrimental effects of wars and military operations on nature. Considering the degree of harm to the environment coming from these human activities, one would think that the organization might have set aside some time at its World Conservation Congress this past week in Hawaii to specifically address these concerns.
Yet, of the more than 1,300 workshops crammed into the six-day marathon environmental meeting in Honolulu, followed by four days of discussion about internal resolutions, nothing specifically addressed the destruction of the environment by military operations and wars.
The heavy funding the IUCN gets from governments is undoubtedly the rationale for not addressing this “elephant in the room” at a conference for the protection of the endangered planet – a tragic commentary on a powerful organization that should acknowledge all anti-environmental pressures.
At a presentation at the USA Pavilion during the conference, senior representatives of the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy regaled the IUCN audience of conservationists with tales about caring for the environment, including protecting endangered species, on hundreds of U.S. military bases in the United States.
The presenters did not mention what is done on the over 800 U.S. military bases outside of the United States. In the one-hour military style briefing, the speakers failed to mention the incredible amounts of fossil fuels used by military aircraft, ships and land vehicles that leave mammoth carbon footprints around the world. Also not mentioned were wars that kill humans, animals and plants; military exercise bombing of entire islands and large swaths of land; and the harmful effects of the burn pits which have incinerated the debris of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Each military service representative focused on the need for training areas to prepare the U.S. military to “keep peace in the world.” Of course, no mention was made of “keeping the peace” through wars of choice that have killed hundreds of thousands of persons, animals and plants, and the bombing of the cultural heritage in many areas around the world including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.
Miranda Ballentine, Air Force Assistant Secretary for Installations, the Environment and Energy, said the U.S. Air Force has over 5,000 aircraft, more than all the airlines in the United States — yet she never mentioned how many gallons of jet fuel are used by these aircraft, nor how many people, animals and cultural sites the aircraft have bombed.
To give one some idea of the scale of the footprint of U.S. military bases, Ballentine said Air Force has over 160 installations, including 70 major installation covering over 9 million square miles of land, larger than the country of Switzerland, plus 200 miles of coastland.
Incredibly, Ballentine said that due to commercial development around military bases, military bases have become “islands of conservation” — conservation takes place inside the protected base while there are larger conservation issues outside the fence lines of the bases.
Adding to the mammoth size of the military base footprint, Dr. Christine Altendorf, the regional director of the U.S. Army’s Installation Management Command of the Pacific, said U.S. Army bases have 12.4 million acres of land, including 1.3 million acres of wetlands, 82,605 archeological sites, 58,887 National Historical Landmarks and 223 endangered species on 118 installations.
The U.S. Navy’s briefer, a Navy Commander, added to the inventory of military equipment, saying the Navy has 3,700 aircraft; 276 ships, including 10 aircraft carriers; 72 submarines. Seventy naval installations in the United States have 4 million acres of land and 500 miles of coastline. The Navy presenter said the Navy has never heard of a marine mammal that has been harmed by U.S. Naval vessels or acoustic experiments in the past ten years.
Only One Question
At the end of the three presentations, there was time for only one question — and luckily, my intense hand waving paid off and I got to ask: “How can you conserve nature when you are bombing nature in wars of choice around the world, practicing military operations in areas that have endangered species like on the islands of Oahu, Big Island of Hawaii, Pagan, Tinian, Okinawa and bombing islands into wastelands like the Hawaiian island of Koho’olawe and the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and now you want to use the North Marianas ‘Pagan’ Island as a bombing target. And how does the construction of the new South Korean naval base in pristine marine areas of Jeju Island that will be used by the U.S. Navy and the proposed construction at Henoko of the runways into the pristine Oura Bay in Okinawa fit into conservation of nature?”
Interestingly, in the large audience of approximately 100 people, not one of them applauded the question indicating that either audience was composed primarily of Department of Defense employees, or that the conservationists are uneasy about confronting the U.S. government and particularly the U.S. military about its responsibility for its large role in the destruction of much of the planet’s environment.
The Navy representative was the only person to respond to my question. He reiterated the national security necessity for military exercises to practice to “defend peace around the world.” To his credit, he acknowledged the role the public has in commenting on the possible impact of military exercises. He said that over 32,000 comments from the public have been made on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the possibility of artillery firing and aircraft bombing of the Northern Marianas island of Tinian — that has only 2,300 inhabitants.
Despite all odds, someone in Hawaii was able to get an exhibit of photographs of the cleanup of Koho’olawe placed on the third floor of the Hawaii Convention Center. There was no sign announcing the exhibition, just a series of photos with some explanation. In five days of attending the conference, I observed that 95 percent of the conference attendees who walked past the exhibition did not stop to look at it – until I stopped them and explained what it was about. Then, they were very interested.
A crater that was created on the Hawaiian island of Koho’olawe from massive explosions of TNT in 1965. (Photo from Hawaii Archive)
From 1941 to 1990, the island of Koho’olawe was used as a bombing range for U.S. military aircraft and naval vessels. One photograph in the exhibition showed the crater called “Sailor’s Hat” which was made by several massive explosions of TNT in 1965 to recreate and study the effects of large explosions on nearby ships and personnel to simulate in some manner the effects of a nuclear explosion. The crater affected the island’s fresh water aquifer and now no artesian water remains on the island.
After Hawaiians stopped the bombing through their protests and by staying on the island during bombings from the 1970s, the U.S. Navy returned Koho’olawe to the State of Hawaii in 2004 after a 10-year clean-up process. But only 66 percent of the surface has been cleared of unexploded ordnance (UXO), and only 10 percent cleared to a depth of 4 feet. Twenty-three percent of the surface remains uncleared and 100 percent of the waters surrounding the island have not been cleared of UXO, putting divers and ships at risk.
Okinawan Environmental Activists
Environmental activists from Okinawa had a booth at the IUCN at which they told about the attempt of the U.S. military and the national Japanese government to construct a runway complex into Oura Bay, a pristine marine area that that is the home of the protected species of marine mammal, the dugong.
The Deputy Governor of Okinawa and the Mayor of Nago city, Okinawa, both of whom have been key figures in the grassroots campaign to stop the construction of the runways and the lawsuits filed by the provincial government of Okinawa against the federal Japanese government, gave presentations about the citizens’ struggle against the construction of the runways.
However, there was no mention of the environmental effects on the marine environment from the construction of a huge new naval base on Jeju Island, South Korea, the site of the previous IUCN conference four years ago. At that conference, IUCN, no doubt at the request of the South Korean government, refused to allow citizen activists to have a booth inside the convention or make presentations like the Okinawans did this year. As a result, the Jeju Island campaigners were forced to stay outside the conference site.
Four years later in the 2016 WCC conference in Hawaii, the Government of Japan and the Province of Jeju Island sponsored a large multi-media pavilion about Jeju island which did not mention the construction of the new naval base and the destruction of the cultural heritage of the site nor the displacement of women divers who had dived at the location for generations.
On Sept. 3, local groups in Honolulu came to the Hawaii Convention Center with signs to remind the IUCN of the U.S. militarization of Asia and the Pacific. Signs and posters from local environmentalists cited the environmental impact from the huge 108,863-acre Pohakuloa bombing range on the Big Island of Hawaii, the largest U.S. military installation in the Pacific; the Aegis missile test center on the island of Kauai; and the four large U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine bases on the island of Oahu.
Other signs referenced the extensive number of U.S. military bases in Japan, Okinawa, South Korea, Guam and new U.S. military installations in the Philippines and Australia.
Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She also served 16 years as a US diplomat in US Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. She was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in December 2001. She resigned from the US Department of State in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.
TOKYO — The residents of Japan’s island prefecture of Okinawa have staged a sit-in protest against the construction of helipads for the US military forces in the region, local media reported Friday.
The construction, which was suspended two years ago, resumed on Friday morning, according to media reports.
The local residents are concerned that helipads could be used by the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, considered to be defective by its opponents.
In exchange for construction of six helipads, the United States agreed in 1996 to return to Japan almost half of the 17,500 acres of land in the Yanbaru jungles, used by the US forces as a training camp. The Japanese government had built two helipads but construction of the remaining four was halted in 2014 due to the protests.
Since becoming operational in 2007, the V-22 Osprey has had three crashes resulting in six deaths and several minor incidents.
Japanese local assembly candidates who oppose the presence of a US military base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa have won the majority of seats in prefectural elections.
The anti-US base candidates won 27 of the 48 seats in the Sunday elections, up from the 23 seats that they held previously.
The election results are likely to strengthen the drive against plans to expand the US-run Futenma air base, and to intensify the battle between the central government and Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, who also opposes the US base.
The Japanese government has been seeking to build off-coast runways for Futenma in the town of Henoko, which is also on Okinawa, as part of a longer-term plan to entirely transfer the base to Henoko.
The relocation has to happen based on a 1996 agreement with the US to move the base to a less heavily-populated area on Okinawa.
Locals, however, oppose both the plans for the airstrip construction and the mere presence of the base on their island. They want it totally removed from Okinawa.
Following the announcement of the election results, Onaga described them as a “great victory.” The central government, however, insisted that it will remain committed to the plans for the relocation of the base.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has said the base is crucial to maintaining the alliance between his country and the US.
“There is no change to our stance that the shift to Henoko is the only solution when we think about maintaining the deterrence of the US-Japan alliance and removing the risks of the Futenma airbase,” he said at a press conference.
Public outrage against the base was intensified in May after a former US Marine and a base employee was arrested in connection with the death of a 20-year-old local woman.
The arrest prompted officials to impose a month-long night-time curfew on US forces based on the island, as part of a “period of unity and mourning” over the killing.
More recently, a 21-year-old naval officer from the base was arrested for drunken driving, during which she caused a “serious three-car accident with injuries.”
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida filed a protest with US ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy about the Sunday’s development, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding the American envoy apologized for the incident.
The island, which was the site of a World War II battle, is home to some 30,000 US military and civilian personnel under a decades-long security partnership.
Senior Japanese journalists have denounced PM Shinzo Abe’s government for its recent clampdown on press freedom after the communications minister threatened to revoke their licenses for biased coverage last month.
Five Japanese journalists called a press conference to express their concerns over the government’s tightening grip on media.
“In Japan today, rather than the media watching the authorities, the government watches the media,” said Shuntaro Torigoe, a former news anchor on Japanese TV Asahi, adding that the Abe government “is most nervously checking what the media say, because what’s said on television affects his support ratings.”
Last month, Japan’s minister of internal affairs and communications, Sanae Takaichi, repeatedly warned broadcasters that they must produce “politically neutral” news coverage in compliance with the country’s broadcast law if they didn’t want to lose their licenses.
Despite growing concerns that such remarks can have an adverse effect on the press freedom, Takaichi’s words were reiterated by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who supported the ministry’s stance, calling her comments “common sense.”
Following the remarks, Hiroko Kuniya, a prominent Japanese journalist, was ousted after 23 years of working as a popular primetime show host for public broadcaster NHK [Japan Broadcasting Corp]. After her last appearance on the show she commented on the departure by saying that “expressing things has gradually become difficult.”
Among other victims of the government`s crusade on media were veteran anchors Ichiro Furutachi, 61 (TV Asahi Corp), who stepped down last December and Shigetada Kishii, 71 (Tokyo Broadcasting System). Kishii announced he would leave the channel on March 31. He believes the broadcasters are being pressured by the government to sack outspoken anchors to stem the flow of criticism.
Last year, Kishii publicly opposed the government’s security policy legislation, which stipulates that Japan’s armed forces will be able to engage in the military operations overseas in defense of an ally, including the US, under attack. Despite being labeled “war legislation” by the public, it was approved by Abe’s government, triggering mass protests.
Article 174 of Japan’s broadcast law allows the minister of internal affairs to suspend operations of any station that fails to comply with the neutrality clause. However, media professionals didn’t see the minister’s words as a simple reminder, but rather a dangerous attempt of suppressing the media.
“It sounds as if the government can suspend the activities of broadcasters or remove newscasters just because they criticized the government,” said Soichiro Okuno, an MP for the Democratic Party of Japan.
“It was a remark that could even topple the government in a Western democracy,” wrote Akira Ikegami in a newspaper column last month.
Japan’s remilitarization has become the center topic of the national agenda under Abe’s government with many opposing the authorities’ efforts to broaden the mandate of Japan’s self-defense force and relocate a US military base on Okinawa. Nearly 30,000 people joined the mass rallies against the government’s plan to relocate the base, while hundreds of students marched through the streets of Tokyo protesting “war legislation” in February.
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided to halt landfill work on the Henoko coastal area of Nago city in Okinawa for the relocation of a US airbase under a court-mediated settlement plan, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said Friday.
“The government has decided to accept the court-mediated settlement plan,” Nakatani said as quoted by Kyodo news agency.
Litigation between the authorities of the Okinawa prefecture and the central Japanese government is due to be completed under the settlement plan. The parties are expected to hold consultations to work out an acceptable final solution.The relocation of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma was agreed on in 2006. Current plans envision the base to be closed by February 2019 and relocated within the Okinawa prefecture.
The relocation decision has met resistance from Okinawa’s local authorities, with many Okinawa residents wishing to see the base gone rather than relocated. Okinawa Prefecture Governor Takeshi Onaga convinced the central government to temporarily halt construction in August 2015.
Elected in 2014, Onaga ran on promises to oppose the airbase’s construction. In mid-November, the Okinawa government was sued by the central government over the dispute.
Documents obtained by Muckrock under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that chemical leaks at the US Kadena Air Base in Okinawa may be the culprit behind the contamination of local drinking water.
Not content with poisoning just their own citizens with contaminated water, it seems that an array of accidents and acts of “vandalism” at the US base over the past 15 years have deployed at least 21,000 liters of fire extinguishing agents — some of which are toxic.
The Okinawa Prefectural Enterprise Bureau announced last month that from February 2014 through November 2015, high levels of toxic Perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) — an ingredient found in many fire extinguishing agents — was found in waterways that supply drinking water to seven municipalities. They reported finding levels of 80 nanograms per liter (ng/L) at its Chatan Purification Plant and 1,320 ng/L in the Dakujaku River.
PFOS have a half-life of up to nine years and is easily absorbed orally and accumulates in the blood, kidneys, and liver.
Last May, a drunk US Marine reportedly activated a fire fighting system, filling a hangar with 1,500 liters of JET-X 2.75 percent — a foam classified by the U.S. government as hazardous, the Japan Times reports. Despite the fact that the agent ran into waterways, officials mistakenly labeled the chemical as nontoxic and the military did not report the incident to residents or the Japanese government.
“Okinawa Prefecture and municipalities near the base should conduct an independent investigation into the leaks. Moreover the Japanese government should require the U.S. military to notify it of any potentially harmful leakage — regardless of the amount. To decide the significance of a leak should not be left up to the U.S. military,” Manabu Sato, a political science professor at Okinawa International University, told the Japan Times.
Thousands of American military personnel are expected to arrive in the Mariana Islands over the next several years, as part of the US strategic “pivot” to East Asia. Many will come from Okinawa, Japan, where many local residents want US bases closed.
Military facilities in Guam, the archipelago’s largest island and a US possession since 1898, have been reinforced and updated in anticipation of almost 5,000 Marines, as well as new aircraft, submarines and patrol boats. The infrastructure upgrades will “elevate the tiny Pacific island into a maritime strategic hub, a key element laid out by the Pentagon in the Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy,” according to the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
“We have two 11,000-foot concrete runways, both rebuilt within the last 10 years,” Steven Wolborsky, director of plans, program and readiness at the Andersen Air Force Base told Stars and Stripes, adding that roughly 19 million pounds of explosives are now stored across the facility’s 4,400 acres.
“We have enough parking for more than 155 aircraft, with a robust in-ground refueling infrastructure,” Wolborsky added. “We have the largest capacity of jet fuel in the Air Force at 66 million gallons ‒ coupled with an equal amount down south with the Navy.”
The construction has been driven primarily by the plan to move thousands of Marines to Guam from Okinawa, Captain Alfred Anderson, the base commander, said. The redeployment is expected by 2023 or so.
More than a third of the estimated $8.7 billion cost of building the new facilities for the Marines is being funded by Japan, according to McClatchy reporter Adam Ashton. The Japanese residents of Okinawa have complained for years about the impact of US military presence, ranging from drugs, alcoholism, and sexual abuse to environmental damage.
Originally the Pentagon envisioned a shift of 8,600 Marines and some 9,000 dependents from Okinawa, raising alarm among some residents of Guam that their island, with an area of only 212 square miles (549 km sq.) and a population of 160,000, would be overwhelmed.
Pressure from the activists representing the native Chamorro people, organized in a group called We Are Guahan, compelled the Pentagon to trim that number down to 4,800. Two thirds of that number would be there on rotation, without their families, reducing the pressure on the island even further.
The activists are not resting on their laurels, however, and are pressing on against the Pentagon’s plans to install firing ranges on the islands of Tinian and Pagan. The new facilities are supposed to integrate with the US Navy’s underwater training range in the nearby Mariana Trench.
While Guam is an unincorporated US territory, Pagan and Tinian belong to the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth, a US possession with the same status as Puerto Rico.
The island of Pagan is uninhabited at the moment, although the island’s inhabitants still make claims to the land after they were forced to evacuate due to volcanic eruptions in 1981. Tinian has an area of 39 square miles (101 km sq.) and just over 3,000 residents. US Marines seized the island from a Japanese garrison after a weeklong battle in July 1944. A year later, the massive airbase built on the island was used to launch the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Joining the residents in opposition to the Marine firing range plan is Alter City Group, a Chinese company based in Macau that wanted to invest $500 million to build a casino complex on Tinian. The firing range would “significantly alter the island as we know it in dramatically irreparable ways,” and impose burdens on the island both “significant and unsustainable,” the ACG said in a statement, as quoted by McClatchy.
Some political and business leaders in Guam, however, fear the military may drop its plans altogether if the Marines are barred from using Tinian and Pagan for live-fire exercises. They have established the Guam-US Security Alliance to push for the military buildup.
“This is so big that people are going to have to learn to get along,” John Thomas Brown, director of the Alliance, told McClatchy. “It can be done. It should be done. Time is wasting.”
Most of Guam’s income comes from Japanese tourism, followed by US military spending.
OKINAWA, JAPAN — Around one hundred and fifty Japanese protesters gathered to stop construction trucks from entering the U.S. base Camp Schwab, after the Ministry of Land over-ruled the local Governors’ decision to revoke permission for construction plans, criticizing the “mainland-centric” Japanese Government of compromising the environmental, health and safety interests of the Islanders.
Riot police poured out of buses at six a.m., out-numbering protesters four to one, with road sitters systematically picked off in less than an hour to make way for construction vehicles.
All the mayors and government representatives of Okinawa have objected to the construction of the new coastal base, which will landfill one hundred and sixty acres of Oura Bay, for a two hundred and five hectare construction plan which will be part of a military runway.
Marine biologists describe Oura Bay as a critical habitat for the endangered dugong (a species of manatee), which feeds in the area, as well as sea turtles and unique large coral communities.
The bay is particularly special for its extreme rich ecosystem which has developed due to six inland rivers converging into the bay, making the sea levels deep, and ideal from various types of porites coral and dependent creatures.
Camp Schwab is just one of 32 U.S. bases which occupy 17% of the Island, using various areas for military exercises from jungle training to Osprey helicopter training exercises. There are on average 50 Osprey take off and landings every day, many next to housing and built up residential areas, causing disruption to everyday life with extreme noise levels, heat and diesel smell from the engines.
Two days ago there were six arrests outside the base, as well as ‘Kayactivists’ in the sea trying to disrupt the construction. A formidable line of tethered red buoys mark out the area consigned for construction, running from the land to a group of offshore rocks, Nagashima and Hirashima, described by local shamans as the place where dragons (the source of wisdom) originated.
Protesters also have a number of speed boats which take to the waters around the cordoned area; the response of the coast guard is to use the tactic of trying to board these boats after ramming them off course.
The overwhelming feeling of the local people is that the Government on the mainland is willing to sacrifice the wishes of Okinawans in order to pursue its military defense measures against China. Bound by Article 9, Japan has not had an army since world war two, though moves by the Government suggest a desire to scrap the Article and embark on a ‘special relationship’ with the U.S., who is already securing control of the area with over 200 bases, and thus tightening the Asia pivot with control over land and sea trade routes, particularly those routes used by China.
Meanwhile, Japan is footing 75% of the bill for accommodating the U.S., with each soldier costing the Japanese Government 200 million yen per year, that’s $4.4 billion a year for the 53,082 U.S. soldiers currently in Japan, with around half (26,460) based in Okinawa. The new base at Henoko is also expected to cost the Japanese Government a tidy sum with the current price tag calculated to be at least 5 trillion yen.
Okinawa suffered devastating losses during the Second World War, with a quarter of the population killed within the 3-month-long Battle of Okinawa which claimed 200,000 lives in total. Hilltops are said to have changed shape due to the sheer bombardment of ammunition.
Local activist Hiroshi Ashitomi has been protesting at Camp Schwab since the expansion was announced 11 years ago, he said: “We want an island of peace and the ability to make our own decisions, if this doesn’t happen then maybe we might need to start talking about independence.”
Maya Evans coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence UK.
Hundreds of people participated in the demonstration, sitting or lying on the ground in the road to Camp Schwab in an effort to prevent vehicles transporting building materials from accessing the site.
“Don’t lend a hand in the construction of the military base!” the crowd chanted as they were dragged away.
For two decades the military has been wanting to move the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma Okinawa base further north in Okinawa.
The plan to relocate the installation has drawn protests by tens of thousands of residents who worry about sexual assaults by US service members, violence, and the environmental impact on local ecosystems.
Over 50,000 US military personnel currently reside in Japan, and more than half of those live in Okinawa.
“Don’t the people of Okinawa have sovereignty?” 70-year-old Katsuhiro Yoshida, an Okinawa prefectural assembly member, told the Asahi Shimbun. “This reminds me of the scenes of rioting against the U.S. military before Okinawa was returned to Japan (in 1972). Now we are facing off against our own government. It is so contemptible.”
The current governor of Okinawa, Takeshi Onaga, was elected on the premise that he would not allow the base to be constructed. He made good on that pledge, until Japan’s land ministry announced this week that they were overriding his decision.
“The fact that they forcibly executed this construction, there is nothing but anger,” Takashi Kishimoto from the Okinawa Peace Movement Center told NBC News. “We are outraged at these political tactics which ignore will of the people.”
A poll conducted by the Okinawa Times found that 76% of residents are opposed to the construction of a new base.
Photo © Screen Shot
Japan’s Defense Ministry says it will restart work on a land reclamation project, which is vital for a proposed US military base on the site. This is likely to infuriate the local Okinawa prefectural government, who are deeply against the move.
Work is planned to start on Thursday and will create storage space needed to start the landfill work. The Okinawa Defense Bureau will also continue a seabed drilling survey off the coast of Henoko, where an alternative US base could be built.
“An administrative decision to start the landfill work has already been made,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday, as cited by the Japan Times.
The Okinawa government says it refuses to accept the notice and has asked the bureau to consult with them before starting the landfill work. Tokyo says these talks have already finished.
On October 13, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga revoked permission granted for the construction of a new US military base to host the US Marine Corps, following their relocation from the Futenma Air Station from the heavily populated city of Ginowan.
“I will continue to do everything in my power to fulfill my campaign pledge of not allowing the construction of a new base at Henoko,” Onaga said, according to the Asahi Shimbun.
However Onaga appears to have been outflanked. Land Minister Keiichi Ishii suspended the landfill approval cancelation on Tuesday, while Tokyo said it would now be giving itself permission to carry out the work and sideline the governor.
The Land Ministry asked Onaga to withdraw his cancelation of the landfill approval by November 6, the Japan Times reports.
“This is like an ultimatum from the government,” Onaga told a news conference on Tuesday. “It’s not just unfair but also insulting to many people in the prefecture. It’s absolutely unacceptable.”
The previous Okinawa governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, gave the green light for the relocation of the base in 2013. However, after Onaga won the elections in 2014, he promised to oppose the plan – to the delight of the majority of locals.
There has been tension for years between the local population and US servicemen. This dates back to a notorious crime committed in 1995 when three US marines kidnapped and raped a 12-year-old schoolgirl.
There have also been less-publicized sex crime cases involving underage victims reported in 2001 and 2005, the fatal running over of a female high school student by a drunken US marine in 1998, and other incidents.
Okinawa, home to about one percent of Japan’s population, hosts nearly half of the 47,000 US troops based in Japan.
The relocation process of a US military base in Japan’s Okinawa has been resumed, even though month-long talks between Tokyo and local authorities angered by the “troublesome neighbour” still haven’t broken the impasse.
The “concentrated discussions” on the project that faced fierce opposition of the locals ended in vain on Saturday and the construction works in Henoko, Okinawa, have now resumed, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reports.
The decision has sparked a wave of indignation among residents who demand the base to be shut down and rebuilt elsewhere in Japan or overseas. They took to the streets of Henoko, a small coastal area in Okinawa.
Their claim was backed by Takeshi Onaga, the outspoken governor of Okinawa, and other local officials.
“It was extremely regrettable. I will not let [the central government] build a new base in Henoko by any means,” the governor said.
The plan to move the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to Henoko, which is the southern island of Okinawa, was first announced in 1996 and has since disturbed the local population.
During a meeting with Onaga in April Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe noted that “the relocation to Henoko is the only solution,” though it had been voiced more than once that the base posed a hazard to nearby residents’ lives and needed to be moved.
Japan has already been shaken by a number of protests against the relocation plan earlier this year. Thousands of protesters from as far as Hokkaido to Nagasaki condemned the Japanese government’s policy on the matter and demanded their voices to be heard.
Washington doesn’t plan on closing the facility in Ginowan, which is currently located in a crowded urban area, until it is replaced by a new one.
Meanwhile, Shinzo Abe’s ratings keep on going down as the situation with the US airbase is intensifying and parliament is discussing a bill aimed at promoting Japanese military’s role in the world’s geopolitics.