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EDITORIAL | Denny Tamaki is Not Above Japan’s Constitution, Supreme Court

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki is duty-bound to drop his opposition to the transfer of the US military bases from Futenma to Henoko.

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Governor Denny Tamaki speaking at a press conference on September 8 in Okinawa Prefecture.(©Sankei by Hiroshi Kawase)

Okinawa's Governor Denny Tamaki recently told the press that he plans to attend a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Specifically, he intends to express his opposition to the relocation of the United States Futenma Air Station to Henoko in the northern part of Okinawa Island.

In other words, the governor intends to deliver a speech at the council meeting set to open in Geneva on September 18 that will overtly oppose the plan adopted by the government of Japan. 

The relocation of the facility to Henoko is a serious commitment made jointly by Japan and the United States. Where to locate US military bases in Japan is a matter of national security policy that is the exclusive prerogative of the national government. The Constitution of Japan does not give local governments or their chief executives the authority to overrule national security policy. Nor does it give them power over foreign policy agreements.

Governor Denny Tamaki speaking at a press conference on September 8 in Okinawa Prefecture.(©Sankei by Hiroshi Kawase)

A Matter of National Defense

The US military bases are a key element in the formation of deterrence capabilities of the Japan-US alliance. For the governor to object to this arrangement in an international forum is detrimental to the national interest. It jeopardizes the safety of the people of Japan, including the citizens of his own prefecture. 

Furthermore, his action risks unwarranted meddling by China and other foreign powers. Governor Tamaki should scrap his plans for using the UN Human Rights Council as a stage for airing his grievances. 

Okinawa
Henoko coastal area, Nago City, Okinawa Prefecture, where the relocation work of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is underway. Photo on December 12, 2022. (© Kyodo News)

Japan's Supreme Court Has Ruled

On September 4, the Supreme Court ruled against the prefectural government in a lawsuit Okinawa had brought on the issue. The prefecture objected to changes submitted by the central government in the design of the relocation project. 

After the prefectural government lost the case, Governor Tamaki was obliged to approve the national government's application. But he has not yet done so. 

If Tamaki does what he proposes, he would be displaying utter disdain for the judiciary. First, he would be attending a Human Rights Council meeting without having fulfilled his obligations under the law in Japan. Next, he would show disdain for the judiciary by expressing opinions that directly contradict the Supreme Court decision. Such conduct would be inexcusable.

Futenma Air Station is surrounded by the city in Okinawa.

Relocation Helps, Not Hurts, the People of Okinawa

Then-Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga also spoke out against the Henoko relocation at the Human Rights Council in 2015. In the speech that he gave at that time, he disparaged Japan. He said things like "the Okinawan people are being deprived of their right to self-determination and their human rights."

However, Futenma Air Station sits in a densely populated urban area. The reality is that if the Henoko relocation does not take place, there is no remedy for this dangerous situation. In that case, the Japan-US alliance could not ensure deterrence to protect Japan. 

Moreover, Tamaki is doing this even as the Senkaku Islands, Ishigaki City, in Okinawa Prefecture are under threat from China. As well, the risk of an emergency involving Taiwan continues to grow. 

Tamaki must not repeat Onaga's mistakes.

Xi Jinping Senkaku defense panel defense boost Japan China maritime. predictions Quad Senkaku Islands
China's largest Coast Guard vessel yet is equipped with a 76mm gun. It was caught in the contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands, Ishigaki City, in Okinawa in November 2022. (©11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters)

Recognizing the Threat from China

We should remember that China constitutes a real threat. Unfortunately, Governor Tamaki's words and actions are playing into the hands of Beijing. 

When Tamaki himself visited China in July, the Chinese government gave him an extraordinary reception. It included a face-to-face meeting with Premier Li Qiang,  China's second-highest leader after President Xi Jinping.

It is no surprise that the Chinese government may have intentions to strengthen its influence over Okinawa. Nor is it unexpected that China should want to drive a wedge between the nation and the prefecture. 

The presence of the Self-Defense Forces and US forces stationed in the prefecture is what prevents this from happening. It also provides peace of mind to the Japanese people, including the residents of Okinawa. 

Governor Tamaki should keep these indisputable facts in mind. 

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun