We Stand with Denny: Respect Okinawa's Determination to Stop Henoko Construction and Close Futenma Base

From November 11 to 15, 2018, Okinawa's newly elected Governor Denny Tamaki visits New York and Washington D.C., taking the issues of Futenma Air Base closure and Henoko base construction directly to the people and the government of the U.S.  On this occasion, the Okinawa Environmental Justice Project has issued the following statement.  Please read it and help spread our message!  (日本語はこちらから



We Stand with Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki in Fight against Henoko Base Construction and Fight for Withdrawl of Futenma Base 

Okinawa Environmental Justice Project

With the U.S. government’s embrace, the Japanese government has been recklessly pushing a plan to build a new U.S. military base in Henoko-Oura Bay in northern Okinawa Island, Japan. For the governments, the Henoko plan is the “only option” to replace the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station dangerously located in the middle of crowded Gionowan City on the island.

The Henoko plan is, however, an insult to the will of the people of Okinawa who have opposed it in all forms of democracy for the last twenty years. It is also an irreversible pathway to the destruction of one of the most precious environments of the world with more than 5,300 marine species including 262 endangered ones.[i]

To carry out the insult and destruction, the Japanese government bluntly bends and disregards laws and regulations of both Japan and the U.S., undermining the U.S.-Japan relationship. In this process, the U.S. military and government have become accomplices.

We at the Okinawa Environmental Justice Project stand with newly elected Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki in urging the people and the government of the U.S. to take a critical look at the Henoko plan and respect Okinawa’s determination to stop it and to close the Futenma Air Station.[ii]

Revocation of Land Reclamation Permit
The injustice of the Henoko plan is evident in the recent contentions between the Okinawa prefectural government and the Japanese government over the land reclamation permit for the Henoko base construction. The permit was granted in December 2013 by former Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima under pressure from the Japanese government.[iii]  It enabled the Okinawa Defense Bureau to carry out construction work for the last three years.      

On August 31, 2018, after careful examination of the base construction so far and its effects on the environment, the Okinawa prefectural government concluded that the construction was in violation of the Act on Reclamation of Publicly-owned Water Surface, and it revoked the permit. The revocation was a manifestation of the determination and efforts of late Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, whose final phase of life was spent fighting against the Henoko plan and bringing dignity to the people of Okinawa.[iv]

The prefectural government revoked the permit, first of all, because the Okinawa Defense Bureau’s Environmental Impact Assessment Study did not include adequate assessments of the fragile sea bottom of the construction site and the heights of buildings surrounding the proposed air base in accordance with the U.S. military’s UFC 3-260-01 Airfield and Heliport Planning and Design, and also because, contrary to the Study’s “no negative environmental impacts” conclusion, adverse environmental impacts have been observed and many of the Bureau’s mitigation measures have proven to be ineffective.[v]

In response, on October 17, the Okinawa Defense Bureau appealed, “as a private individual,” to Keiichi Ishii, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation, and Tourism to suspend the revocation under the Administrative Appeals Act. The Bureau’s appeal was immediately met with the criticism that the appeal was illegitimate because the Bureau is a government agency, not a private individual and the law is designed to protect private individuals.[vi]  However, on October 30, accepting this absurd legal argument and other arguments by the Bureau, the Minister suspended the prefectural government’s revocation.[vii]  The Bureau is now resuming construction work at Henoko-Oura Bay.

The Minister’s Decision Up-Close
At a press conference, explaining his decision to suspend the Okinawa prefectural government’s revocation, the Minister regurgitated the following two reasons put forth by the Okinawa Defense Bureau in its appeal while failing to address – that is, avoiding - the specific technical issues contested by the prefectural government and the Bureau.[viii]

The Minister insisted, given that the Henoko plan is the “only option” to replace the Futenma Air Station, the prefectural government’s revocation would make it difficult to eliminate the dangers posed by the Futenma base at its current location.

We argue however it is the incompetence of the Japanese government and the indifference of the U.S. government, not the prefectural government’s revocation or the Okinawan people’s opposition to the Henoko plan, that have allowed the dangerous situation of the Futenma base to continue for the last 70 years. The Japanese government has never adequately addressed the dangers and noise pollution at the Futenma base. Nor has it implemented effective measures to mitigate them. As a result, the Futenma Air Station remains in the middle of crowded Ginowan City as “the most dangerous base in the world,” violating the U.S. military’s safety standards and regulations.[ix]   

Moreover, the Government’s endlessly repeated “only option” is merely an expression of its refusal to admit that there are plenty of other viable options in mainland Japan.

The Minister also claimed that the revocation would cause diplomatic friction and have negative effects on the U.S.-Japan alliance.

We argue however it is the Japanese government’s reckless pushing of the Henoko project, not the prefectural government’s revocation,  that is causing diplomatic friction and undermining the U.S.-Japan alliance. From the point of view of environmental justice, a case in point is the two conflicting decisions made over the plight of the Okinawa dugong, an endangered marine mammal and Japan’s natural monument inhabiting the Henoko-Oura Bay area, in relation to the Okinawa Defense Bureau’s EIA and impact mitigation measures.

On the one hand, we have the U.S. federal court decision delivered on August 1, 2018, favoring the U.S. Department of Defense in the 15-year long “dugong case” Under the National Historic Preservation Act. The claim by the plaintiffs from Okinawa and the U.S. that the DoD had failed to “take into account” the impact of the base construction on the dugong was dismissed.  And it was ruled that the DoD did all it could do to study the impacts of the base on the dugong including evaluation of the Okinawa Defense Bureau’s EIA and mitigation measure and that the DoD’s “no impact” conclusion/prediction was reasonable.[x]  On the other hand, we have the Okinawa prefectural government’s decision to revoke the land reclamation permit delivered on August 31. As part of the reasons for its revocation, despite the Bureau’s no impact conclusion in its EIA, the Okinawa prefectural government determined that impacts have been observed in the behavior of the dugong and the Okinawa Defense Bureau’s mitigation measures have not proven to be effective.[xi] 

With the dugong case now in the appellate court, it will be interesting to see how these conflicting decisions will be judged and whether and how this judgment affects the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Finally, we argue it is no coincidence the Minister failed to provide (avoided) detailed discussion on the specific technical reasons contested by the prefectural government and the Okinawa Defense Bureau. As discussed above, in our view, any discussion on specifics of the revocation would reveal that the Okinawa Defense Bureau is violating laws and regulations of Japan and the U.S. government, inevitably making the U.S. military and government its accomplices. 

Concluding Remarks
We want to remind the people and the government of the U.S. that while Okinawa accounts for only 0.6 percent of the entire landmass of Japan, 70 percent of U.S. military bases and training areas in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa. In this situation, the Japanese and U.S. governments’ insistence “Henoko is the only option” does not make sense and is not acceptable to the people of Okinawa, who view it as a form of structural discrimination. In this situation, the U.S. military could not exercise or even exist without severely impacting the lives of the people and the environment of Okinawa and violating laws and regulations of both Japan and the U.S.

This is why the people of Okinawa continue to oppose the Henoko plan and demand the removal of the Futenma Air Station from Okinawa. This is why the people of Okinawa elect people like Onaga Takeshi and Denny Tamaki as Governors and join them to fight for social and environmental justice.

We invite the people and the government of the U.S. to take a critical look at the Henoko plan and respect Okinawa’s determination to stop it and to close the Futenma Air Station. 

Contact
Hideki Yoshikawa
Director
Okinawa Environmental Justice Project
yhidekiy@gmail.com





[i] See the statement “ichijirushiku takai seibutsu tayosei wo yosuru Okinawa ken henoko ourawan no kankyo hozen wo motomeru jyuku gakkai godo yobosho [collective statement of 19 Japanese academic organizations requesting environmental conservation of the highly extensive biodiversity of Oura Bay in Okinawa prefecture],” The Ecological Society of Japan et al., 2014.
[ii] Many resolutions have been adopted by U.S. based and U.S. related organizations and groups to support Okinawa’s movement to fight the Henoko plan. See for example the resolution by the City Council of Berkeley, California here: https://www.cityofberkeley.info/SearchMain.aspx?cx=017385055954264103894:kn5xiwd8ubm&cof=FORID:9&ie=UTF-8&q=resolution%20Henoko
See the resolution adopted by the Asian Pacific Labor Alliance in 2017 here:
See the resolution adopted by the Veterans For Peace in 2018 here:
[iii] See Emma Chanlett-Avery and Ian E. Rinehart, The U.S. Military Presence in Okinawa and the Futenma Base Controversy, US Congressional Research Service, August 14, 2014
[iv] See “Oral Statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council by the Governor of Okinawa (Takeshi Onaga),” September 21, 2015.
[v] See the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s official document “koyusuimen umetate shonin torikeshi tsuchisho [notice of revocation of permit for land reclamation of publicly owned water surface]” sent to the Okinawa Defense Bureau, August 31, 2018.
[vi] See “Gov’t acting like plaintiff, judge over reclamation lacks validity: experts,” The Mainichi, November 7, 2018.
[vii] See the official letter “shikko moshitate ni taisuru kettei ni tsuite (notice of decision regarding appeal to suspend executive action” sent by the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism to the Okinawa Defense Bureau, October 30, 2018. 
[viii] See “Minister suspends Okinawa’s move to Futenma base relocation,” The Japan Times, October 30, 2018.
[ix] See C. Douglas Lummis “Futenma: ‘The Most Dangerous Base in the World’,” The Diplomat, March 30, 2018.
[x] Maria Dinzeo, “Judge OKs Okinawa Base, Despite Endangered Dugong,” Courthouse News Service, August 2, 2018.
[xi] See the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s official document “koyusuimen umetate shonin torikeshi tsuchisho [notice of revocation of permit for land reclamation of publicly owned water surface]” sent to the Okinawa Defense Bureau, August 31, 2018.




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