November 29, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo
On November 28, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga held an interview with multiple news outlets in advance of the two-year anniversary of his inauguration as governor on December 10. Regarding the plan to return slightly more than half of the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area in Higashi Village and Kunigami Village, the return being conditioned on construction of new U.S. military helipads, Onaga said, “This is the ultimate painful decision. It is difficult to object to the return of roughly four thousand hectares of land,” essentially expressing acceptance of the helipad construction.
Onaga then said, “When thinking about the steady implementation of the SACO (Special Action Committee on Okinawa) report and the relationship of trust with the two villages [of Higashi and Kunigami], I think everything converges on the removal of the Osprey.” When announcing his campaign pledges in October 2014 prior to being elected, Onaga explicitly stated that he opposed the helipads in connection with his call for the Osprey to be removed from Okinawa, and his recent comment thus constitutes a practical revocation of his campaign pledge. He reaffirmed his stance of continuing to oppose the new base construction in Henoko.
Regarding the current situation in the Northern Training Area, Onaga criticized the Japanese government’s methods, saying, “It is dreadful that Osprey are flying the skies with no environmental impact assessment having been performed [regarding their use]. In proceeding with the construction, [the government] began construction just hours after the results of the House of Councilors election were announced, which did nothing to win the trust of Okinawans.” He further stated that “Okinawans are calmly observing [the government’s assertion that] we should not complain because four thousand hectares will be returned” and that “if the Osprey are removed, it would probably be difficult to utilize the helipads fully.”
When asked how he would deal with the situation if the Supreme Court rejects Okinawa’s appeal in the lawsuit over the Henoko land reclamation, Onaga referred to the authority he has as governor regarding reapplication for and design changes to the reef fracturing permit for the ocean near Henoko and coral transplanting. “Even if the land reclamation permit is reinstated, I am still able to make individual decisions regarding each specific issue. In doing so, I want to stick to my view [of opposition to the new base construction],” said Onaga, reaffirming his intention to continue expressing opposition to the new base construction.
When asked his opinion of the possibility of building a new facility in Henoko within the existing base there without reclaiming any land from the ocean, Onaga referred to his campaign pledge to have Futenma relocated outside of Okinawa and merely said, “I want to achieve success in expressing to the central government the wish that it stop insisting that ‘Henoko is the only option’ and prevent a new base from being built in Henoko.”
Onaga expressed determination in improving the understanding of Japanese people outside of Okinawa regarding the base burden borne by Okinawa, saying, “this has progressed in various ways, but I think there is still indifference, so I want to continue conveying [the situation] to many people in various ways.”
Looking back on his two years as governor, Onaga said, “I believe I have put in my full efforts. We have begun initiatives to move forward with almost all of the more than 200 pledges I made during my campaign.” He expressed his intention to strengthen initiates even further toward achieving an Asian economic strategic vision and tackling the issue of childhood poverty.
Regarding the current state of the “All Okinawa” movement that was formed during the gubernatorial election, Onaga said, “I believe politics has come together with the sentiment of the people.”
(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)