After the long hot summer in Japan, working on various other programs such as the annual study tour to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I have not done a good job of keeping up with the military base issue in Okinawa. I will try to post again as often as I can, especially the kind of information that is not readily available in English.
This upcoming Sunday, September 12 is the day for Nago City Council election. 37 candidates are running for the 27 positions. Within the current City Council, 12 support the anti-base mayor Inamine Susumu, another 12 are against, and 3 are neutral. According to the Ryukyu Shimpo report on September 6, the 37 candidates are divided over the base issue too, with 18 of them connected to the political parties opposing the new base, 17 of them supporting, and 2 on the neutral side.
However, according to the Ryukyu Shimpo survey with those candidates asking specifically about the base relocation issue, 24 of them oppose the base, only 1 supports it, and the 12 others did not know or did not answer. According to Asahi Shimbun on September 7, most of the candidates are avoiding the base relocation issue in their campaigns, because they all want votes from Nago citizens, whether they are against or for the new base plan. This City Council election is not, or even the mayoral election back in January was not a plebiscite on the base issue, even though both elections are perceived to be so. In fact, Nago did have a plebiscite specifically on this issue back in 1997, in which the the majority expressed their opposition to the base.
Medoruma Shun, an Okinawan author and blogger on September 6 says, "The voice of Nago was already expressed at the December 1997 plebiscite, in which the majority voted against the new base. Subsequent mayors (Higa-Kishimoto-Shimabukuro), previous Governor Inamine (Keiichi), current Governor Nakaima, and the Japanese government have all ignored this democratic expression of Nago for the past thirteen years. If these leaders had respected the result of the 1997 plebiscite, residents of Nago would not have had to go through the kind of confusion and suffering they went through for the past 13 years."
Meroruma is right. There are four elections in this year only - the mayoral election, the Upper House election in July, the upcoming City Council election, then the gubernatorial election in November. It is not fair for the residents of Nago to be tested like this from one election to another, when the only plebiscite they ever had dedicated to this issue expressed a NO to the base. The reason why there is so much media attention on the council election of this small city of 60,000 is that the government wants to use the result of the election, if it is favourable to them, to push through the base plan.
I found another disturbing piece of news in the August 27 edition of Okinawa Times. It was reported that the Marine Corps in Okinawa is planning to replace the barbed wire fence on the beach of Henoko with a more sturdy structure. What kind of structure it will be is unknown, but a local company has already won a contract, and the construction is set to start in September. This barbed wire fence has become a symbol of the resistance in Henoko. People from all Okinawa, Japan, and around the world have left messages of opposition against a new base and for a base-free Okinawa on pieces of colourful cloth over the fence on the border of USMC Camp Schwab and the civilian side of the beach.
Is it possible that they are building a new fixed fence so people won't be able to see easily what they will try to do beyond that fence... to build a brand-new, Osprey-capable runway and a military port, by massive reclamation of the eco-sensitive Oura Bay?
Whatever they build over the border, we won't let them build a new base beyond it, and the activists and visitors will be as creative as ever in decorating the new fence.
For more in-depth analysis of the Nago election, as well as the DPJ presidential election (September 14) and Okinawa gubernatorial election (Novemebr 28), see Gavan McCormack's new article on Japan Focus: Asia-Pacific Journal.