Okinawa governor says he can still hold his head high

December 28, 2013


NAHA--Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima is rejecting charges from critics that he reneged on his promise made during the 2010 gubernatorial race that he would seek to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma outside the prefecture.

“The descriptions of me violating my election promise over the base issue are wrong. I do not have to explain myself because I have changed nothing,” Nakaima said at a news conference Dec. 27 where he announced he was approving the central government’s application to reclaim a sea area off the coast of the Henoko district in Okinawa Prefecture’s Nago.

As for his reason for approving the application, he said the decision was based on the Public Water Body Reclamation Law.

“In the application, the central government detailed the environmental protection measures it would take. Therefore, the application meets all the standards (required under the law),” he said.

In giving approval though, Nakaima demanded that the central government set up an environment monitoring committee that consists of experts and reach a special environmental agreement with the U.S. government.

The Futenma air station is situated in a densely populated residential area in the city of Ginowan and is regarded as posing an unnecessary safety hazard to local residents.

Nakaima won re-election in 2010 by promising to relocate the base outside of the prefecture. During the election campaign, one of his mantras was to ask, “Does the central government still think the base can be relocated to Henoko?”

In the Dec. 27 news conference, however, Nakaima also repeatedly claimed, “My idea that relocating the Futenma air station outside the prefecture is the most efficient solution to the problem remains unchanged.”

Nakaima said he could both follow the laws governing the approval process for reclamation applications and support the relocation of the base off the island simultaneously.

At a central government council meeting in Tokyo on Dec. 17 to discuss its Okinawa policy, Nakaima requested that operations at the air station be halted within five years.

Prime Minster Shinzo Abe told Nakaima later during a Dec. 25 meeting, “I share that sentiment.”

Citing Abe’s remark, Nakaima said in the Dec. 27 news conference, “I obtained assurances from the prime minister.”

He also said, “The light at the end of the tunnel on halting operations at the base is becoming more visible, which supports my election promise.”

Asked by a reporter, “Don’t you think that you were deceived by the central government?” Nakaima, who once served as a bureaucrat in the former Ministry of International Trade and Industry, said, “I don’t think the central government has deceived me at all.” Nakaima emphasized his continued trust in the Abe administration.

Despite Nakaima’s decision to approve the government’s request, the prospects of relocating the base to reclaimed land remain uncertain.

According to the Okinawa prefectural government, the Nago city government has the authority to approve or reject construction work in its port. Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, 68, is strongly opposed to the relocation.

“Even if the prefectural government approves the relocation, things will not go smoothly,” said a high-ranking official of the prefectural government.

Nago’s mayoral election campaign kicks off Jan. 12. Inamine and former prefectural assembly member Bunshin Suematsu, 65, who supports the relocation, are the main contenders.

Many of Okinawa’s citizens are opposed to the relocation plans within the prefecture. One is Motonobu Nakamura, 76, who lives about 150 meters from the Futenma facility.

“It (the approval to allow the reclamation of the sea) is really regrettable,” said Nakamura, who served as the principal of the Futenma No. 2 Elementary School, located next to the base, in the 1990s.

His experiences of the Battle of Okinawa during the closing months of World War II led him to believe the military bases are not necessary. He said that by reaching Ginowan, U.S. forces deprived him of his father and the community.

He said additionally, in the 1970s, a U.S. soldier once snuck into his daughter’s room, who was a teenager at the time, but fled.

Nakamura said he watched Nakaima’s announcement that he was granting the government’s request, which was broadcast on Dec. 27. He said he was very disappointed.

“I don’t think that I will still be alive when (the land that was previously) my hometown is returned,” Nakamura said.

Fumiko Shimabukuro, 83, is also opposed to the relocation of the Futenma base within the prefecture.

Shimabukuro, who lives in the Henoko district, holds weekly meetings on U.S. base issues in her home. On Dec. 26, she sent a letter to Nakaima, asking him not to approve the central government’s application to reclaim the sea.

“I believed the governor when he said he would make every effort (to prevent the base from being relocated in the prefecture). I am so frustrated, I want to cry,” she said.

She was 15 years old when the Battle of Okinawa raged. She suffered burns from U.S. fire during the battle while hiding in a small cave with members of her family and three other families.

After getting married, she moved to Henoko. When the plan to relocate the Futenma base to Henoko was first floated in 1996, she joined protest rallies on the beach there.

“This (approval) is not the end. As long as I am alive, I will continue to fight the government’s plans,” she said.

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Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima announces his decision to approve the government's reclamation request during a news conference held in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, on Dec. 27. (Shoma Fujiwaki)

Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima announces his decision to approve the government's reclamation request during a news conference held in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, on Dec. 27. (Shoma Fujiwaki)

  • Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima announces his decision to approve the government's reclamation request during a news conference held in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, on Dec. 27. (Shoma Fujiwaki)
  • Protesters hold a sit-in in the lobby of an Okinawa prefectural government building in Naha on Dec. 27 against the governor’s decision to approve the government's reclamation request. (Takeshi Iwashita)

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