The people of Okinawa again clearly demonstrated their overwhelming sentiment condemning the construction of the new U.S. military base at Henoko. In a referendum held on 24th February 2019, 72% of voters, which equates to 434,273, voted against it. The ’Oppose’ votes made up the vast majority in every electoral municipality.
The overwhelming consensus of Okinawans has been shown over and over again. Staunch opponent to the new base construction at Henoko, Denny Tamaki won the prefectural gubernatorial election on 30th September 2018, with a substantial lead of 80,000 votes. In the national parliamentary elections held in Okinawa in recent years, those candidates opposing the construction have been winning. And now in a prefectural-wide referendum, the clear will of the Okinawan people has been again resoundingly displayed - 'NO' to the construction of the new base on their island. The government of Japan must respect the will of the people of Okinawa and stop the construction of the new U.S. military base at Henoko.
Unprecedented Difficulties in Construction - Ballooning costs and no time frame
A seafloor so fragile as to have the consistency of ‘mayonnaise’ in some parts of the planned construction site facing Oura Bay had been found in the surveys, and this point had been raised repeatedly by the concerned parties. However, the Ministry of Defense had tried concealing this inconvenient fact and evaded the concerns; meanwhile they rushed to dump soil into Oura Bay as if to create an impression that construction work had passed the point of no return. A recently conducted survey has revealed that this weak seabed reaches down as deep as 90 metres. The reinforcement work to strengthen the weak foundation to this depth has never been done in Japan and is unprecedented globally. How much would this project cost in the end? How many years would it take to complete? The construction of the new base at Henoko was originally planned as the replacement of the U.S. Marine Corps air station in Futenma, but even if this was so, is it really viable to wait for the completion of this project for an unknown number of years into the future? The central government of Japan is forcibly proceeding with the construction without announcing the budget or the scheduled time frame. Has there ever been any other case of public works with this degree of negligence? What’s more, it is funded by our tax.
Futenma U.S. Base Land Must be Returned Immediately
We must face the unreasonable fact that Okinawa has been forced to shoulder a disproportionate burden for Japan’s security. Okinawa hosts more than 70% of the total U.S. military bases in Japan, despite only accounting for 0.6% of Japan’s total land area. After many years of having endured the intolerable, the outrage of the Okinawan people erupted in 1995 when three U.S. service members abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl. Japan and the U.S. governments developed a sense of crises to the surging anti-U.S. and anti-base sentiment, so they established the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) to alleviate the burdens of base-hosting communities. SACO had laid out policies to realign, consolidate, and reduce U.S. facilities and adjust operational procedures. If the central government really means to ‘stand by’ the people of Okinawa as they comment over and over again, they must respect the will of the people, feel their anger and sorrow, and make every effort to urge the U.S. to immediately return the land at Futenma that is identified as the most dangerous military base in the world. The return should be unconditional, not an exchange for the Henoko new base as a fait accompli.
The Destruction of Delicate Marine Ecosystems
Oura Bay is home for myriads of lives and its biodiversity is one of the richest in the world. It is a habitat for more than 5,300 species, 262 of which are endangered, including dugongs, which many fear that it is close to extinction. The central government continues to forcibly push forward the construction work and destroy this precious ecosystem disregarding the agreements made with Okinawa Prefecture. Dugongs spotted in the past have not been seen since the commencement of site surveys and construction. Rare species of coral such as Porites Okinawensis Veron and Stylaraea punctata have been spotted in and around the area to be reclaimed and the construction work will pose a further threat to their survival. As experts point out, transplanting coral does not equate to preserving the ecosystem. However, even so, the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau has not kept their word to transplant the number of corals promised. They have transplanted only 9 colonies of Porites okinawensis Veron out of over 70,000 colonies, which relevant assessments indicated would require transplanting. This means almost all the coral colonies needing transplanting are being left uncared for. Moreover, the Okinawa Defense Bureau did not execute the said transplants until the embankment construction was almost complete. The longer these coral colonies are left on and around the construction site, the less likely they are to survive at all.
The seagrass meadows at the said reclamation site are the largest around Okinawa Island. Seagrass meadows are described as a "Cradle of Marine Life": they are breeding cradles and habitat for many marine creatures. They are also feeding grounds for dugongs which are listed as objects of national cultural significance under Japan’s Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. On 28th of January 2019, the Defense Bureau commenced the construction of embankments at the site facing Oura Bay, referred as "N4". This will hinder the ocean current movements into Oura Bay and the ramifications to the corals and ecosystem in the area will be immeasurable.
Protecting the Right of People to Choose their Own Future
It is our indisputable right to nurture the environment and pass it onto the future generations. However, the construction of the new base at Henoko will deprive Okinawans of this natural right to choose their own future. As this highly contentious project proceeds, such values humanity has cherished in human rights, peace, environment, the rule of law and democracy continue to be trampled on and it is not to be tolerated. We hereby demand the governments of Japan and the U.S. immediately cease construction of the new base at Henoko. We also sincerely request all global citizens to take a closer look at the issue and take action to support the people of Okinawa.
Citizen's Network - We Need No Base at the Beautiful Sea in Henoko nor in Yanbaru Forest
Friends of the Earth Japan
1-21-9 Komone Itabashi-ku Tokyo 173-0037