People hold candles to spell the
words 'NO BASE OKINAWA'
to protest the relocation of
the Futenma U.S. Marine Air Base
within Okinawa Prefecture, at
Meiji Park, Tokyo, April 2010.
Ryukyu Shimpo Shimbun, Japan
After Earthquake, Japan Can Ill Afford U.S. Air Base Repair
"America has free rein to
use the bases as it pleases. It is only fair, then, that it pays for the upkeep
of the facilities within the Futenma Base. … Does the Japanese government have
that much spare cash to waste? If there is enough leeway in the budget to pay
for unforeseen expenditures, it should go toward the reconstruction of areas
devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake."
Take the example in which toward the end of the lease
on an apartment, a tenant and his real-estate agent decide to undertake
extensive refurbishment without notifying the landlord. It would be clear to any
bystander that their actions are completely unreasonable.
During vice ministerial talks on the realignment of U.S.
forces in Japan, the United States and Japan governments have agreed that the
Futenma Air Base is in need of large scale repairs. As Okinawa - the party with
most at stake - has not been taken into consideration, this so-called agreement
should not be allowed to stand.
It is also incomprehensible for us to throw money at
an air base that is due to be relocated. The repair work is an unnecessary detour and a vast waste of resources; if in fact there is time and money to be spent, these should be directed toward expediting the relocation and clean-up of these facilities.
Japan has taken into account the significant cuts in
defense spending by the United States and is reportedly prepared to split the costs.
Perhaps in a move to pave the way for cost-sharing, Foreign Minister
Koichiro Gemba, during a recent Lower House Budget Committee session at the Diet,
challenged whether, “it is really safe for the community to withhold repairs
when [the United States] has said that they are required for another year or
two of use.”
But where is the assurance that it will only be “another
year or two?” Would the Japanese government, which is at the beck-and-call of
the United States, be able to stand up and demand the return of Futenma in a
year or two? No Japanese citizen believes so. Gemba’s argument is also
contradictory to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s statement that the government
would “put its best efforts into negotiations to avoid allowing the Futenma Air
Base to become a fixture.”
Status of Forces Agreement stipulates that the United States has exclusive
jurisdiction over its bases. The framework means that whereas Japan has no say
in the matter, America has free rein to use the bases as it pleases. It is only
fair, then, that it pay for the upkeep of the facilities within the Futenma Base.
Besides, does the Japanese government have that much
spare cash to waste? If there is enough leeway in the budget to pay for
unforeseen expenditures, it should go toward the reconstruction of areas
devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Agreements that bypass or ignore public
opinion have a history of offending the people of Okinawa. Yet, neither the U.S.
nor Japanese governments appear to possess the wisdom to learn from the past. Either
that, or this is a sign that they don't mind offending Okinawans.
The latter is more plausible. A massive refurbishment
would strengthen the case for making Futenma permanent. It can then be readily
foreseen that by threatening to make Futenma permanent, the two governments
would coerce Okinawa into accepting relocation to other sites within the prefecture,
such as Henoko or Kadena.
They would be mistaken to think intimidation will be
effective. The resolve of Okinawans to seek relocation outside the prefecture
will not be shaken by scare tactics. Sooner rather than later, both governments
should realize this.
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