Visiting Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga and U.S. officials explored alternatives to relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko in Nago City. Although some of the officials at the meeting were in favor of moving forward as planned, others also expressed doubts regarding the Henoko relocation. Onaga also met with four members of the Senate and House of Representatives, some of whom expressed their hopes for cooperation between the U.S. and Okinawa.
The people of Okinawa are attempting to change U.S. public opinion.
This visit is in great contrast to Onaga’s last visit in June 2015, when the U.S. State Department reiterated that Henoko was the only solution.
Because the U.S. is preparing for its presidential election in November, some have stated that the problems with Henoko will be set aside until the next president is in office.
Okinawa and Gov. Onaga both need to make use of the halt of construction at Henoko and this period of political transition in the U.S. in order to urge the U.S. and Japanese governments to reconsider relocation to Henoko. Onaga should continue to make the opinions of Okinawa’s residents known and treat this as a good opportunity to raise U.S. support.
Onaga also met with eight experts on U.S.-Japan relations and the security treaty. This included Kent Calder, who is the director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and who dealt with the relocation of the base when he served as special adviser to the U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Although attendees’ individual opinions were not made public, Onaga stated that they were aware of the difficulties surrounding the relocation and recognized that there might be alternatives to Henoko.
At the meeting with members of Congress, Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma brought up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Philippines in the 1990s as an example and stated that he would support plans presenting alternatives to Henoko. Cole said that change would be possible if the Japanese government desired. He said that he would work with the U.S. government to respect alternative solutions Japan might present, adding that he hopes a fair solution is found for Okinawa.
This is a huge step forward when compared to Onaga’s 2015 U.S. visit. During this visit, no one believed Onaga’s assertions that relocating the U.S. base to Henoko would be difficult and fail to move forward. This is largely due to the governor’s consistent efforts in opposition to the construction of the new base and the support he has received from the people of Okinawa.
No matter how much the Japanese government insists that Henoko is the only solution, the halt of construction is proof that those skeptical of the plans for Henoko are increasing within the United States. Is Henoko truly the only option? The U.S. and Japanese governments need to realize that they have reached a point where serious reconsideration is called for.