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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

By postponing decision to overturn Henoko landfill permit, Okinawa governor may be missing a key chance 沖縄タイムス8月11日コラム「棚上げ 好機逸する懸念」英訳

Here is an English translation of Sumiyo Heianna's column that appeared in the August 11 edition of Okinawa Times. 『沖縄タイムス』8月11日に掲載された平安名純代記者のコラム「想い風」の英訳を平安名氏の許可を得て掲載します。

August 11, 2015

By postponing decision to overturn Henoko landfill permit, Okinawa governor may be missing a key chance

Sumiyo Heianna

Tranlated by Sandi Aritza 

Twenty-three years ago, US Naval Base Subic Bay in the Philippines, said to be the largest US base in the Asia-Pacific region, was closed. If this base, considered a critical strategic foothold for the US in the region during the Cold War, could be closed, why is it so difficult to close Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is so much smaller in scale?

When I voiced this question to the late US senator Daniel Inouye, formerly a key figure in Congress, his answer was simple.

“The local authorities and the Philippine government joined together to demand the return of the base. That’s the difference between Okinawa and the Philippines.”

After that, the Hatoyama administration was inaugurated purporting to represent the voice of the Okinawan people, but its tenure was short-lived, and since then every administration has adhered to the Henoko relocation.

The previous governor of Okinawa brought up the possibility of finding a relocation site outside of Okinawa, but in the end, he signed off on the Henoko landfill. The US government interpreted this as a sign that the Japanese government and the locals were in agreement on the Henoko relocation plan.

As long as the landfill permit is not cancelled or revoked, it remains legally binding. That is why so much focus has been placed on how Takeshi Onaga, who defeated the previous governor by announcing his opposition to the Henoko base, will exercise his gubernatorial authority with regard to the landfill permit. However, even after receiving a final report from the experts’ commission he established to investigate legal flaws in the landfill authorization procedures, he put off making a decision, and has now announced that he will take no action for one month as a condition for entering into deliberations with the national government.

There is a vast discrepancy between how the legal binding power of the landfill authorization is viewed within Okinawa and abroad.

In Okinawa, most people believe that the results of a series of elections following the landfill authorization, in which candidates opposing the Henoko base won in every case, demonstrate the will of the Okinawan people. However, from the US perspective, as long as the landfill permit is not cancelled or revoked, the landfill authorization maintains legal binding power.

That is precisely why in January 2015, immediately after Onaga’s gubernatorial inauguration, a group of overseas intellectuals released a statement urging the immediate cancellation and/or revocation of the landfill permit and emphasizing the importance of rapid action. 

The Japanese government has suspended construction temporarily and begun a one-month period of deliberation with the Okinawa prefectural government. However, both the US and Japanese governments have clearly stated that they maintain their policy of relocating the base to Henoko, and even before beginning discussions denied the possibility of a merging of opinion between the Japanese government and the local Okinawan authorities. 

When I met with a former US Congressman who had clashed with the US government during his tenure by calling for the Henoko relocation plan to be reconsidered, and told him that Governor Onaga decided to defer the decision to cancel or revoke the landfill permit, he could not hide his disappointment. “This could have been the perfect chance for Okinawa, [right after the release of the experts’ commission’s report],” he told me in dismay.

Has Okinawa missed its chance? What exactly will Governor Onaga discuss with the Japanese government? Following the events in Okinawa from across the ocean, I find myself searching for the answer to still more questions.

Sumiyo Heianna is special correspondent in Washington DC for Okinawa Times. 

The original article is below. 

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