Tomorrow will mark 25 years since Japan agreed to the complete relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Even though a quarter of a century has passed, this relocation is nowhere on the horizon, as “the world’s most dangerous air station” continues to be situated in the middle of the city of Ginowan.
The key reason for this is the insistence by American and Japanese authorities that the station remain in Okinawa prefecture. Soft seabed has been discovered at the city of Nago’s Henoko Bay, the planned area for the relocation, leading to inevitable delays. Government estimates say the project will take at least another 12 years, deep into the 2030s. While the government has requested a plan for land reclamation, prefectural authorities have remained defiant, leaving the future of the project unclear. All the while, residents near Futenma continue to be plagued by falling debris from aircraft, pollution by the U.S. military, incessant noise from the station and much more. Allowing such a grave situation to go on for more than 40 years would be an unparalleled level of irresponsibility. Only an immediate, unconditional closure of Futenma will relieve the citizens of Okinawa of these hardships.
This all began in 1995 when two American servicemen raped a 12-year-old girl, leading to a bipartisan fury that forced the Japanese government to approve the relocation the following year. With the stipulation that Futenma stay within prefectural borders, the strife began that continues to this day. There seems to be no end in sight to the prefecture’s resistance to the central government and its plan for relocation.
The central government’s position that Henoko Bay is the only option has two major issues. First, the new base will have additional facilities, such as docks for amphibious warships and munitions depots. While the government has repeatedly said that the base “will act as a deterrent while also easing the strain on Okinawa,” the reality is that deterrence has been given priority above all else, whether it be citizens’ property, rights or safety. Along with the plans for joint usage of the base by the U.S. Navy and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces that have come to light, this would conversely make the base more of a target, endangering citizens even more.
Second is the disregard for the will of the people of Okinawa. Whether it be elections for prefectural governor or national elections, candidates who oppose the construction of a new base have been elected, making voters’ wishes plain as day. The cherry on top was a referendum on land reclamation in Henoko, where around 70% of Okinawa voters stated they were against it. If America and Japan are truly democratic nations, there’s no way they can ignore these results.
Even some American officials are having second thoughts. As the U.S. Government Accountability Office pointed out “there are doubts about the validity and feasibility of the plan … for the relocation of Futenma Air Station from the perspective of politics, military affairs, public finance, and the environment.” A report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an American think tank, expressed a similar sentiment, stating, “It appears unlikely that [the re-stationing of Futenma] will ever be completed.”
At its inception, Futenma Air Station was a base built by guns, knives and bulldozers as the American military locked people up in internment camps and seized their property during the Battle of Okinawa, spitting in the face of the Hague Conventions. Okinawans must have their land returned to them, full stop. Further gridlock will not be tolerated.