Friday, January 29, 2010

Nago to DC: Henoko is dead in the water

In the wake of last Sunday’s mayoral elections in the Okinawan city of Nago, many politicians and commentators have rushed in to provide analysis of what the victory of Susumu Inamine over incumbent Yoshikazu Shimabukuro really means.

As I was actually there, I would like to add my own observations.

Particularly striking among these comments was the interpretation provided by Adm Robert F. Willard, the top US military commander in the Pacific, who stated: “I don’t think it should be regarded as a setback” for the Henoko relocation plan. “There’s probably a broader set of questions and a broader analysis that is appropriate to determine who won the election and why.”

The Okinawans would disagree. The locals are quite prepared to strongly resist any further impositions from both the US military as well as the Japanese central government in Tokyo. The heart of Inamine’s victory was very much a rejection of the plan to build a new US military base on the island and to destroy the ecology of the Henoko coastline.

Even many of those who voted for Yoshikazu Shimabukuro were actually against the plan, but they were more afraid of the economic and political consequences of openly rejecting it than the Inamine supporters. The fact that a majority of the voters overcame their natural timidity and cast a vote that they knew would lead to confrontation with powerful forces is clear testament to just how strongly entrenched the opposition really is.

The Hatoyama cabinet is divided on how to proceed. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano suggested that public opinion was irrelevant as far as he was concerned. Other cabinet members disagreed: Kyodo News cited one senior cabinet official who deemed the existing plan "absolutely impossible under the current circumstances."

He continued, “There is strong opposition in the locality… [If the government forcibly builds a new US military facility in Nago,] it will be like the Narita struggle. That’s a sad thing and not acceptable.”
Michael Penn
APP Nonresident Senior Fellow
Executive Director Shingetsu Institute

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