Governor Onaga Meets U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy

On June 19, Governor Onaga Takeshi of Okinawa met with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy in Tokyo.

After their meeting, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo published a statement claiming that in the 40-minute private meeting, Ambassador Kennedy “reiterated that the plan to expand Camp Schwab avoids the continued use of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma and is the only solution that addresses operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns.” The Embassy’s statement was essentially a slightly rephrased version of the recent statement published by the U.S. State Department after State Department officials met with Governor Onaga. That statement claimed that “U.S. officials reiterated that the plan to construct the FRF is the only solution that addresses operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns and avoids the continued use of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma.”

According to NHK World News, “Onaga told reporters that he felt the ambassador was willing to work with him, but added that she spoke like she was reading a memo about the US government’s stance on the relocation plan.”

A Ryukyu Shimpo article reporting on the meeting explained one key point Onaga made at the meeting, regarding getting permission from the U.S. military for the Okinawa prefectural government to enter the temporary restricted zone where the landfill is to be constructed in order to carry out a survey of damage caused to coral reefs in the area up until now. However, according to the Ryukyu Shimpo article, which is presumably based off Governor Onaga’s press conference following the meeting, Ambassador Kennedy made no reference to the Henoko relocation during their discussion, and only said that “the continued presence of the U.S. military in Japan is necessary,” a statement with which Governor Onaga has never disagreed.

An Okinawa Times article on the meeting also reports that according to Governor Onaga, Ambassador Kenendy made no reference to “Futenma” or “Henoko” during the meeting, only expressing the importance of the U.S. presence in Japan to both countries’ national security.

When Governor Onaga visited Washington DC, he did not reveal the details of most of his meetings until after the fact. Apparently, this was a demand from the U.S. side in order to avoid excessive attention. The actual content of those meetings, as well as of Onaga’s meeting with Ambassador Kennedy, remains unknown. It seems essential that the same statement be regurgitated time after time, and that any serious thought, dialogue, or flexibility be avoided at all costs.

According to a U.S. Congressional Research Service report on Japan-U.S. relations published April 23, 2015, “Failure to implement the Futenma relocation could solidify an impression among some American observers that the Japanese political system struggles to follow through with difficult tasks.” (pg.22)

It is starting to seem like the issue is not one of what is in the best interest of Japan or the United States, let alone Okinawa, but rather one of proving that “what we say goes” and that flexibility is not an option.

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