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Governor Ota's Announcement on the Offshore Heliport

Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture

6th February, 1998

After carefully reviewing the disposition of the local citizens and other various factors, Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) has reached a conclusion concerning the construction of the offshore heliport.

The U.S. military bases on Okinawa were built on land that was forcefully expropriated by the U.S. military after WWII. After the Reversion in 1972, the U.S. military bases were then provided under the U.S. Japan Security Treaty and the U.S. Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Opposite to the hopes of the citizens of Okinawa, the situation concerning U.S. military bases has changed very little even after reversion. In addition, the treaty and the agreement do not state that the U.S. military bases must be placed in Okinawa.

Even in 1971, the year before reversion, despite having in the Diet the resolution for no nuclear weapons and for the reduction of U.S. military bases on Okinawa, the situation has still not changed for this crowded prefecture. Over 50 years have passed since the end of Second World War, however, 75% of the land exclusively used by U.S. Forces in Japan (USFJ) is still concentrated on Okinawa. The U.S. military base related problems remain to be significant issues that the OPG must resolve.

OPG has petitioned both the U.S. and Japanese governments to return all U.S. military bases on Okinawa under the planned and phased proposal called the "Base Return Action Program" along with the reduction of the number of troops of the U.S. Forces on Okinawa, especially the U.S. Marine Corps. However, both governments had a negative view on this matter. In addition, despite OPG's opposition, the Special Measures Law for the Use of Land by the U.S. Military was amended, and the Decentralization Promotion Committee recommended that the lease procedures for land used by the U.S. military be under the direct control of the national government.

Furthermore, issues including the depleted uranium problem revealed in February of last year, and the revisions to SOFA still remain to be unresolved.

The citizens of Okinawa are concerned because the heavy burden of the U.S. military bases they must carry will continue. They feel that the base functions are becoming more and more reinforced for the future and the bases will become a permanent fixture in Okinawa for a long time.

Because Futenma Air Station is located in the midst of Futenma city and aircraft landing and take-off training exercises are conducted on this base, it is extremely dangerous. The citizens believe that the return of Futenma Air Station is an issue that is both pressing and of high priority. OPG has repeatedly petitioned for the prompt return of the bases through every opportunity, including the governor's visits to the United States.

As a result, both the U.S. and Japanese governments held a conference with more vigor than ever before to try to solve the U.S. military base related issues on Okinawa. In the December 1996 Final Report of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO), it was agreed upon that six facilities, including Futenma Air Station, would be completely returned, and five others would be partially returned.

However, most of the facilities must meet the precondition of relocating to another facility within Okinawa. Okinawan citizens strongly oppose relocation and at the center of this opposition are the municipalities and citizens of where the proposed relocation sites will be.

Under these circumstances, the national government from last May began conducting preliminary surveys for the construction of the offshore heliport and based on this, on November 5 proposed to the city of Nago and OPG the "The Fundamental Proposal of the Offshore Heliport for the Replacement of Futenma Air Station."

Under the provision that allows for the establishment of an ordinance at the initiative of the residents, the citizens of Nago city held a referendum on whether to accept or reject the construction of the offshore heliport to replace the Futenma Air Station on December 21 of last year.

The referendum results clearly indicated that more Nago city voters disapproved the construction of the offshore heliport in their municipality.

The prefecture is now faced with making a decision on the offshore heliport. Our policy is to get the general viewpoint on the heliport before making our own decision by taking into consideration such items as the results of the referendum and the will of the Nago citizens, while closely looking at the progress of the talks between the national government and Nago city.

Based on these circumstances, OPG has carefully examined from various angles such items as the results of the Nago city referendum, opinions of effected municipalities and various groups, and the fundamental principle of the prefectural administration to decide whether or not to accept the national government's proposed plan. As a result, OPG has decided not to accept the national government's proposed plan. The reasons are as follows:

a) Through the referendum where the majority of the voters opposed the construction of the heliport the disposition of the local residents was made clear. We must respect the will of the people because it is the fundamental rule of democracy. The administration of local governments, which is deeply connected with the lives of the local citizens, must address issues by conforming to the demands of the local citizens.

b) The Prefectural Assembly on July 16, 1996 unanimously agreed on the resolution for promoting the complete return of Futenma Air Station and opposing the relocation of bases within the prefecture that reinforces the function of bases.

c) To help us get the opinions of people from various circles and different social classes in the prefecture, OPG listened to the opinions of various groups. There were 84 in total, including economic groups, labor groups, municipalities of the Okinawa Municipal Council for Military Land Conversion and Base Problems, and every political party in the Prefectural Assembly.

Varying opinions came out of our study. Some opposed the heliport to adhere to the fundamental principle that they would oppose any relocation within the prefecture and others stated that in reality, they had no choice but to accept the heliport because returning Futenma Air Station and receiving economic promotion incentives should be our priorities. However, the majority of the people were opposed to the relocation.

d) On January 12 of this year, the council in the Prefectural Assembly on preserving the natural environment of Okinawa reported on "Policies Concerning the Preservation of the Natural Environment of Okinawa." In the report, the area in the waters off Camp Schwab was classified with an appraisal ranking of I, which is the highest ranking for the strict protection of the natural environment. Our views were strongly swayed by the kind of effects the construction of an offshore heliport would have on the natural environment.

e) Based on the concepts of 'peace,' 'co-existence,' and 'self-reliance,' OPG is trying to realize a "peaceful Okinawa, free of military bases." I believe that OPG's basic principles agree with the many Okinawans who oppose the offshore heliport.

The national government up to this point has in a positive way tried to grapple Okinawa's base related problems and economic incentive policies through the Council for U.S. Military Base Problems on Okinawa and the Council for Policies on Okinawa. However, OPG must unfortunately oppose the government's plan to build the offshore heliport due to various circumstances.

We will continue to request that both the U.S. and Japanese governments promptly realize the return of Futenma Air Station. OPG will also continue to strongly petition both the U.S. and Japanese governments to return all U.S. military bases on Okinawa under the planned and phased proposal called the "Base Return Action Program," along with the reduction of the number of troops of the U.S. Forces on Okinawa, especially the U.S. Marine Corps.

To find the solutions to Okinawa's base related problems and to have progress in the economic promotion policies, it is essential to have the assistance of the national government. Thus, we will continue to ask for the government's cooperation and understanding of Okinawa's issues.

To all the citizens of Okinawa, you must squarely face the severe situation Okinawa has been placed in and seriously think about the base related problems and our economic self-reliance.

Furthermore, OPG wanted to meet with the Prime Minister before announcing this decision. However, due to various circumstances, including the Diet's itinerary, we had to make our announcement without speaking to the Prime Minister. We hope the national government understood the position we were in.

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