Subject: [cwj 57] North Okinawa mixed on planned military-civilian airport
From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2000 18:04:17 -0700
Seq: 57

North Okinawa mixed on planned military-civilian airport 
July 11, 2000
Staff writer

NAGO, Okinawa Pref. -- From a tiny desert island off the U.S.
Marine Corps' Camp Schwab, Takuma Higashionna looks out over
the coral reef amid clear water.

"They're going to build (an airport) there," he says. "Can you
believe it?"

Seaweed in this shallow coastal area is believed to nurture a
number of dugongs, which have been spotted several times
recently in the surrounding waters.

The appearance of the endangered sea mammal has given
momentum to those opposing the planned construction of a joint
civilian-U.S. military airport, which will serve as a replacement for
the marines' Futenma Air Station heliport in Ginowan, central

Higashionna, 37, like many others in his rural village, used to work
at a local construction company.

One day, as he walked along the coast of a nearby island to survey
land for a road, he marveled at how beautiful the ocean was and
was disturbed that the road's construction would introduce red
clay into the water.

After a confrontation with his boss, who asked Higashionna to
cooperate in promoting the airport construction plan, he quit his
job in December 1997.

"Roads still mean something to villagers, but military bases do
nothing for us but destroy things," he said.

Higashionna now spends most of his time lobbying against the
airport plan. He organizes meetings and local festivals and talks
with reporters flocking to the small town. He also offers eco-tours
of the area.

Higashionna's campaign, the planned relocation and the shape of
the debate over the U.S. military's presence in Okinawa all goes
back to a shocking crime five years ago.

The rape of a 12-year-old Okinawa schoolgirl by three U.S.
servicemen in 1995 unleashed a wave of long-smoldering antibase
sentiment and prompted the Japanese and U.S. governments to
form a team to re-evaluate the massive presence of U.S. forces on
the southern island prefecture.

The Special Action Committee on Okinawa reached an agreement
in November 1996 to reduce the burden on Okinawa, which is
host to 75 percent of land allocated for U.S. facilities in Japan
while making up just 0.6 percent of the 

nation's total land area. The accord included the planned return of
the Futenma base, which sits in a densely populated part of

If there was any euphoria over the reversion of the base, however,
it was short-lived, as plans for new facilities in the prefecture

Late last year, the Henoko district on Nago's east shore was
formally chosen as the site of the new airport, drawing mixed
reviews in the local community and its vicinity.

The attempted suicide of one community leader in January was
blamed on the tremendous pressure he was feeling from both

"He just couldn't say anything about his position over the issue,"
said a villager close to the man. Local residents are torn because
the central government has pledged a 100 billion yen economic
promotion package for northern Okinawa, the site of the new

The plan was approved by the Cabinet at the end of last year,
along with plans to build the airport in waters off the Henoko

Part of the budget is earmarked for those municipalities around the
construction site: Nago and the villages of Higashi and Ginoza. The
rest will go toward the economic promotion of the prefecture's
northern area.

The central government, prefecture and heads of the northern
municipalities are currently working out a framework for the
economic measures, an official at the Prime Minister's Office said.

Jisei Asato of Toyohara, a district neighboring Henoko, is one local
businessman who is trying to bring in funds from the central
government for the Kube area, centering on the Toyohara, Henoko
and Kushi districts.

"I have visited Tokyo four times so far on this matter" since the
central government announced the economic plan, he said.

But Asato, a former Toyohara district chief and chairman of the
Kube Area Economic Promotion Council, said his campaign does
not mean he is welcomes the facility with open arms.

While he supports plans to construct a floating airport about 3 km
offshore, he is against the reclamation of the coast, which is one
planned option.

Details of the airport plan have yet to be mapped out, including the
size and method of construction.

However, given that the central government and the prefecture
have agreed to have the new facility jointly used by airlines, the
commercial use of a "megafloat" will be technically difficult,
informed sources said.

Generations of Okinawans have traditionally cherished the land and
nature, Asato said, pointing out that the scenic landscape of the
area cannot be given away for such projects as a military facility.
"If (the project) damages the reef, it will directly affect our daily
lives," said Asato, who was on a fishing boat crew in the
Philippines during World War II. "I know about the sea."

While committed to preserving the environment, Asato said he also
recognizes the necessity of sustainable development, adding that
while he served as district chief, the area lacked even basic

"There were no waterworks, roads or streetlights. I took care of
everything," he said.

Like Asato, Shigeru Shimabukuro, who runs a construction survey
firm in Henoko, accepts the base plan as a reasonable trade for
economic stimulus.

He said a five-year technical high school, which is to be built in the
area as part of the economic package, may help promote the local
economy. Details of the school have yet to be determined, but
Henoko has been recommended to the central government as the

"I want to somehow keep young people from leaving the village,"
he said. "The way people in cities think is different from people in
the country." 

Although he recognized as being in favor of the base,
Shimabukuro admits to mixed feelings because of his close ties
with residents opposing the plan.

"I actually don't want a (new) base," he said. "But it cannot be
helped. This is a good opportunity for us to develop our town with
state funds."

At the same time, however, he said he realizes that most of the
money will go to Nago's more populated area on the west shore.

"Even in the same city, the east and the west are different. Every
development, including public facilities, has always been granted to
the west side since the old days," he said.

Antibase sentiment is stronger in the northern district around
Camp Schwab, including the village where Higashionna lives. Part
of this may be attributable to concerns that helicopter flights may
increase over the area when the new facility is built.

Shimabukuro suggested that such antibase sentiment might be
because the area has always been left out of public development

Higashionna said he is annoyed by the prevailing perception that
residents must choose between prosperity and bases or poverty
without them.

"It's not just a matter of seeking fair opinions from both sides," he
said. "We can still live without such economic stimulus measures."

Etsujiro Miyagi, a former professor at the University of the
Ryukyus, said some people may be willing to hold out on principle.
"It is a matter of pride," he said. "(The central government) might
think Okinawans will accept anything for money."

Miyagi said the bases have always been forced on the minority by
the majority -- mainland Japan forces bases on Okinawa, and
Okinawa then thrusts them onto its villages.

Miyagi said this process should not be viewed in merely economic
terms. "It is also a moral question for all Japanese people."

The Japan Times: July 11, 2000

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