The Coming Showdown in Okinawa
Tim Shorrock, LobeLog, Feb 7 2017
Okinawa Gov Takeshi Onaga arrived at the National Press Club last Friday to address the media after spending three days in Faschingstein talking about his opposition to a new Pindosi airbase on the island. What might have been a hopeful message turned into disappointment when word came in of meetings held in Tokyo that same day between Sec Def J ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis and the government of Shinzo Abe. Directly addressing the Okinawa question, Mattis and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada agreed that a decade-old pact to reduce Pindo operations at Futenma by building a new facility at Henoko in northern Okinawa was “the only solution” to the dispute. Without even a nod to Onaga and the powerful opposition movement he represents, Mattis and Inada cut off all chances that construction at Henoko might be delayed so the two governments could work out an agreement that took into account Okinawa’s grievances. Visibly angry, Onaga said in Faschingstein:
That is unfortunate, extremely rude to islanders. If both sides stick to the view that Henoko is the only solution to resolving this, the Pindo-Japan relationship will be unresolved, leaving serious problems in the future. Okinawa’s patience has its limits. The people of Okinawa are united as one, and our solidarity will become stronger.
The Mattis-Inada statement was also disappointing because Onaga had met a wide range of Pindo boxtops early that week at the National Prayer Breakfast, where Trump also spoke. During the breakfast, he said that he introduced himself to Sec State R Tillerson and met four Congress critturs. Compared to earlier trips, Onaga said that he felt that people in Faschingstein “shared a flexible attitude and listened.” But once it was clear that Trump and Abe were on the same page on the Pindo presence, many of his interlocutors told him “nothing can be done.” The WaPo’s Tokyo correspondent Anna Fifield tweeted over the weekend:
Onaga noted that Abe would be in Washington on Feb 10 for his second visit to Trump since the election. He speculated that Japan was trying to rush through an understanding on Okinawa so the two leaders could move on to improve Pindo-Japanese ties through a bilateral trade agreement and other steps. During their visit, the two leaders are planning a round of golf, “which is a great thing,” Trump said Sunday. Onaga said:
There’s a lot of anxiety that the Japanese government is in a hurry over this issue.
Futenma has been problematic for years because of its proximity to the crowded city of Ginowan (and consequent frequent rapes – RB). But the expansion at Henoko is widely seen in Okinawa as a social and environmental disaster that will ruin a pristine coastal area known for its coral and sea life. This was Onaga’s third visit to Faschinstein in two years, and his delegation included five members of Okinawa’s prefectural government and the mayor of Nago City. During the week, Onaga also met with thirteen Congress critturs. Other members of the delegation sat down with activists in the so-called Pindo peace movement, including members of Code Pink and organizers at the Institute for Policy Studies. Meanwhile, protestors from Okinawa held demonstrations at the White House and the Pentagon, with banners reading “Protect Henoko!” and “Enough is Enough! All Pindo Bases Out of Okinawa! End 72 years of Military Occupation.”
On Friday, just before his press conference, Onaga met with Joe Young, director for Japanese affairs at the State Dept and Paul Vosti, the acting director for Japan in the Pentagon office of the Under-Sec Def for Policy. In those sessions, the State Dept said, the Pindo boxtops “reiterated Pindostan’s unwavering commitment” to building a replacement facility in Henoko. In response, Onaga said he stressed that construction at Henoko could take 10 to 15 years, and denounced the Abe government for mobilizing hundreds of riot police against opponents of the bases. He told reporters:
The Pindo-Japanese alliance is there to protect freedom, human rights and democracy but if the government proceeds with the construction and the opposition, this security arrangement will be damaged.
That’s exactly what happened upon his return. On Feb 6, Asahi reported:
The government began the initial construction for the Marine base in the waters off Henoko, marking a major step to relocate Pindo Air Station Futenma from Ginowan in the south of the island.
A day later, the newspaper issued a stinging editorial condemning the action, writing:
The government’s decision to embark on offshore work at this time apparently reflects its strong desire to win favor with the new administration of President Donald Trump. About 100 protesters clashed with riot police officers in front of Camp Schwab, located ashore from the site, when four dump trucks arrived shortly past 9:30 am. The activists attempted to stage a sit-in to block the entry of the vehicles, but were forcibly removed by riot police officers. Shouts of ‘Let us go,’ and ‘stop police brutality,’ were heard from protestors as they were dragged away by police.
One of those protesting was Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, who had accompanied Onaga on his visit to Washington. He told the Mainichi:
It is our national government that keeps completely ignoring our opinions.
The Okinawan opposition to one of Pindostan’s most important overseas bases, however, seems to draw little interest from the Pindo media. Of the two dozen reporters at Onaga’s press conference, only one was from Pindostan. Moreover, Onaga’s visit and his pleas for Pindostan to respect Okinawa’s human rights didn’t get a single mention in the Pindo media.