The government started dumping sand and soil in the waters off the Henoko district of the city of Nago, in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa on Dec. 14 for the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan in the same prefecture.
This action effectively tramples upon the will of the Okinawan people shown only two and a half months ago when they elected Denny Tamaki, who opposes the relocation, as their new governor in late September. Proceeding with the reclamation will make it difficult to restore the original natural environment in the area. The government should halt the work immediately.
Since Tamaki's election, the government has outwardly shown that it was open to having a dialogue with the Okinawa Prefectural Government. In reality, however, it has been rushing to make preparations to push the construction forward. It is no exaggeration to call the government's handling of the situation insincere.
People opposed to the relocation staged protests in front of the gates to U.S. Camp Schwab in Nago, but the sand and soil used for landfill was transported inside the premises by sea beforehand. To make sure the demonstrators were left with no options to prevent the transportation of the materials, the government went as far as using a privately-run pier to force the construction ahead.
The government's rapid advancement of the reclamation appears to be a tactic to present the project as a done deal before a prefectural referendum on the relocation planned for February next year. The latest move is an indication that the government plans to go ahead with the construction regardless of the outcome of the referendum. This is effectively a message that the local government must accept in silence what is decided by the national authorities.
The government seems to be expecting Okinawan residents to gradually give up on resisting, but that arrogance will only serve to worsen local sentiment toward the central government and make the plan more difficult to achieve.
Realistically speaking, the base relocation is far from a done deal. In addition to the work being delayed, the seabed under the construction site has been found to include some weak areas. The prefectural government's own estimates show that reinforcing the seabed would take five years, making the completion of the entire relocation of the facility a total of 13 years away.
The government, on the other hand, remains mum on this prefectural estimate, and is sticking to its original plan of finishing the new base by the 2022 fiscal year.
If the government were to admit that the construction will take longer than planned, then it would surely weaken its argument that early completion of the reclamation work is necessary to remove dangers around the Futenma base, which is located in the middle of a densely populated area. It is difficult to foresee the national security environment 10 years down the road.
It seems that the goal of the central government is not gaining the understanding of prefectural residents, but appealing to the U.S. that the work to relocate the base is moving forward.
If the administration believes that even if it turns Okinawa into the enemy, it will not shake its foundation, then the lack of interest on the mainland allowing such an attitude should surely be questioned. Even if the relocation is hypothetically completed, one has to wonder if a base surrounded by the hatred and hostility of local residents can be operated smoothly.
The government may proceed with the land reclamation work by force, but it cannot reclaim the will of the people.