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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Corporate Interests Behind "Reduction of Okinawa's Burden" 「沖縄の負担軽減」の本当の意味

This is a summary translation of one part of Tokyo Shimbun journalist Handa Shigeru's lecture in Tokyo on December 15, 2009. I thought it would provide some significant background in understanding the current plan by the Hatoyama Govenment to build a runway off the coast of Henoko by placing thousands of steel pilings on the sea bed. Handa Shigeru has been writing extensively about corporate interests and corruption involving the plan to build a "replacement facility" for Futenma Air Station. I will provide more translation as time permits.

From Handa Shigeru's lecture "On the Issue of Futenma Relocation" (December 15, 2009)

The purpose of the return of Futenma is NOT in reduction of Okinawa's burden. All these plans for "replacement facilities" are results of the competition among corporate interests between US, Japan, and Okinawa.

When anti-base voices in Okinawa escalated in 1995 after the rape incident, SACO (Special Action Committee on Okinawa) was established. In SACO, eleven U.S. military facilities in Okinawa were to be returned, and one of them was Futenma. The sea-based facility to be built in place of Futenma Air Station was going to be removable, and the first idea was a base built with the "pontoon structure," a floating base consisting of steel boxes. At that time there was a special interest group within MITI(Ministry of International Trade and Industry) that included seventeen companies including shipbuilders and steel manufacturers. The group also had high-ranking officials of the U.S. Department of Defense, like James Auer and Robin Sakoda.

Then there was another group that supported another method of building a base - the "piling method"(note: the one that Hatoyama Government is proposing as of May 2010). This group had nineteen companies as members, with a major trading company Nissho Iwai (now Sojitsu) as a key member. It was the choice between steel boxes or steel pilings, so there were overlaps between these two groups. Seventeen of the nineteen companies in the "piling" group also belonged to the "pontoon" group. The "piling" group additionally had Nissho Iwai and Raytheon, manufacturer of PAC3 system. This group had Torkel Patterson, chair of Japan Desk at Pentagon, as a member.

Okinawan construction companies were concerned with this attempt by mainland businesses profiting from the new base and thought about how they could win the base-related contracts. The biggest construction company in Okinawa Kokuba-gumi partnered up with the U.S. company Bechtel in developing a proposal to build a runway by reclamation. Inamine Keiichi, who later elected as Governor of Okinawa (in December 1998) sided on this plan. Inamine set a limit of fifteen years for the use of this new runway.

After the competition between the "removable base" plan and "reclamation" plan, a final decision was made in July 2007 - to build by reclamation. It was the result of negotiation between Okinawa and Japanese Government.

The procedure to build a base by reclamation, which started in April 2004, was derailed due to fierce protest by residents. Then Prime Minister Koizumi did not mind upsetting the plan made under the previous Hashimoto Administration. With the Administrative Vice Defense Minister Moriya Takemasa's influence, the two governments decided on a plan to build a V-shaped runway on the coast of Camp Schwab.

The Japanese Government (Defense Ministry) had learned a lesson that an attempt to build over an ocean would meet protest by residents. They wanted to build on the inland area of Camp Schwab where protesters would not be able to enter. On the other hand, US wanted to build further offshore of Camp Schwab. The U.S. had a plan to build a runway off-shore during the Vietnam War, but the rising expenses of the war did not allow it. The plan to build a runway over the shore of Camp Schwab by reclamation was a compromise between the Japanese and the U.S. wishes.

The original transcript of the Handa lecture in Japanese is here.

From the above information, we can safely assume that interests of construction companies, steel manufacturers and likes of trading houses like Nissho Iwai and weapon manufacturers like Raytheon are involved with the current Hatoyama plan. According to the Okinawa Times report of May 15, the current Japanese Government's proposal to the U.S. includes an alternative plan to build by reclamation, on top of the QIP plan (Quick Installation Platform: a pile-supported runway and a bridge). This alternative plan envisions a runway a few hundred meters southwest of the V-shape plan in the 2006 Agreement, on shallow waters along the shore of Camp Schwab.

QIP plan will mostly benefit mainland corporations, so the government solely endorsing this plan may not win much support within Okinawa. Medoruma Shun's May 11 post warns that by combining a reclamation plan in the government's proposal package, the government may be attempting to win agreement by forces within Okinawa that would benefit from a reclamation project. Nago now has anti-base Mayor Inamine Susumu, but the previous three mayors Higa, Kishimoto, and Shimabukuro still have great influence. Some of the Nago City Council members who supported Inamine at the time of the election have shifted their position. The anti- and pro- base forces within the City Council are level-pegging. Medoruma warns that there could be covert attempts going on right now by the central governments to shift the political power balance within Okinawa Prefecture including Nago.

We hear and read the phrase "reduction of Okinawa's base burden" a dozen times a day by politicians. We should keep our eyes and ears wide open to discern which corporate interests those politicians are representing when they repeat this phrase.



  1. Interesting and timely article.

    But one question re "Kokuba-gumi partnered up with the U.S. company Vectel" -- should this perhaps read "Bechtel" probably the largest engineering company in the US.