NHK Misinterprets Obama’s Remarks on Okinawa Bases

At Prime Minister Abe and President Obama’s joint press conference on April 28, Obama stated, “I reaffirmed our commitment to move forward with the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam.” (Full transcript of the press conference can be read here.)

However, when Japan’s major television network NHK broadcast the press conference live with simultaneous interpretation of Obama’s remarks from English to Japanese, the interpreter somehow managed to turn that sentence into, “Regarding the relocation of Futenma Air Station in OKinawa, I want to deal with this situation more flexibly (沖縄の普天間基地の移転について、より柔軟に対応したいと思います).” The mistranslation was then reported as fact in all of Japan’s major newspapers (though not in Okinawa’s local newspapers, as far as I know). The next morning, NHK and all newspapers issued a correction with the correct text of Obama’s remarks.

Reactions on the internet from the right wing generally consist of “the interpreter/NHK did it on purpose because they are Chinese spies who want to trick the Japanese people into opposing the Henoko base construction,” while from the left wing some said, “they did it on purpose because the Japanese government doesn’t want the Japanese people to know that the U.S. military really wants to leave Okinawa and go to Guam instead.”

Personally, I think the interpreter either just doesn’t understand English very well or got distracted and just made something up. As a student of interpretation, I can attest that it is extremely difficult, but one fundamental rule is never to make something up if you don’t catch what the speaker said.

Of the approximately 18,000 marines on Okinawa, 8,000-9,000 are planned to move to Guam and Australia, and the rest at Futenma are planned to move to the Henoko base after it is built. This has been the plan for years, and no change was made during Abe’s recent visit, nor did anyone signal that they intended to consider making a change.

Edited to add: On second thought, if the interpreter was not well-versed on the issue, as most people aren’t, he/she probably got confused as to why Obama was suddenly talking about Guam, and made a failed attempt to guess at the general point he was making.


Henoko: Agriculture Minister’s Decision Unconstitutional

[The following is a translation of an article in the “Koe (Voice)” section, similar to “letters to the editor,” of the Asahi Shimbun Osaka edition dated April 12, 2015.]

Kumano Katsuyuki, lawyer (Hyogo Prefecture, 76)

Okinawa Governor Onaga Takeshi ordered the Okinawa Defense Bureau to stop work on the seabed drilling surveys being carried out in Henoko, Nago City. However, the Defense Bureau submitted an appeal to the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries based on the Administrative Appeal Act, and the Minister of Agriculture decided to enact a stay of execution on the governor’s order, rendering it ineffective. I believe the Minister of Agriculture’s decision was in violation of the constitution.

Article 1 of the Administrative Appeal Act states that its purpose is to “protect the rights and interests of the nation’s citizens” by providing all citizens with a way to file a complaint against a government agency. It is a system designed for the sake of the nation’s citizens. The government is using the far-fetched argument that in the event that the government is undertaking a project, it is in the same position as an ordinary citizen, but for the Defense Bureau (the government) to make an appeal to the Minister of Agriculture (also the government) is in complete disregard for the nature of the law. Furthermore, article 68.2 of the constitution stipulates that the prime minister has the authority to dismiss a minister of state. Because the minister of agriculture could be dismissed by the prime minister at any time if the prime minister does not approve of his actions, there is no guarantee that he is able to exercise independent authority, and there is no way to ensure fairness and impartiality. From either perspective, this is in violation of article 31 of the constitution, which guarantees a fair legal process.

If the central government wants to have a battle over the governor’s order, it must do so through the courts. In order to ensure that Japan is truly a constitutional, law-governed state, we, the Japanese people, must continue to emphasize that the appeal and the stay of execution are unconstitutional and invalid.

Do not reproduce without permission from Asahi Shimbun.

Futenma will be relocated to Henoko?

March 31, 2015

Two nights ago I went out with the editor of Iwanami’s “Sekai”, last night with a reporter from Aera, for beer, then awamori. Both of them stayed at Hotel Southern Village.
The Aera reporter asked me what I thought would happen with the rock and reef crushing issue.
I replied that the results were abundantly clear.
I’m starting to have dejavu. This country has no system to absorb Okinawan voices.
They only asked for the construction to be stopped for three days in order to conduct a survey.
But if the Defense Ministry claims it will have a negative impact on the U.S.-Japan relationship,
They just accept it as fact with no system of verification and throw away Okinawa’s opinion. How much of a negative impact could it really have to stop the construction for just three days?

At the end of April, Prime Minister Abe will meet with Obama. I’m sure he’ll report that the Futenma relocation is progressing and repeat that the U.S.-Japan relationship is “the cornerstone of security in Asia.”
But that’s a little stupid. Why? Well, it’s Japan’s responsibility to provide bases, and Prime Minister Abe ought to be apologizing for the fact that for a full nineteen years, we haven’t been able to carry out the plan agreed upon by the U.S. and Japan. That’s what any normal person would do.
If he had the imagination to consider the U.S. perspective, it would be obvious to him. From Prime Minister Hashimoto who agreed on the return of Futenma to Prime Minister Abe, eleven prime ministers have visited Washington over and over again, insistng that Futenma would be relocated to Henoko. (Note: It’s Abe’s second time, and Hatoyama just said “trust me.”) The country responsible for providing facilities has had eleven prime ministers repeating “Futenma will be relocated to Henoko” for nineteen years. Is that the behavior of an independent country that can be trusted? More like a con man.
Since it all stinks of fraud, a serious administration would never be able to stop the Henoko relocation. Even if Okinawa file a lawsuit against the government, Okinawa will definitely lose. No matter what problems the bases may be causing, the courts won’t touch the U.S.-Japan security treaty with a ten foot pole. It’s like a religion. Security Treaty Supreme Truth.
But it makes things difficult politically.
Okinawa can’t just give in now either. Some sort of resistance will likely continue. It might just be a ripple from the perspective of the U.S. and Japanese governments, but when Japan repeats that “Futenma will be relocated to Henoko” at summit meetings with the U.S., it will sound like nothing more than an empty promise.
Japan always wants to bring up Futenma in meetings with the U.S. Does that really make it an appealing ally to the U.S.? Imagine it were a relationship between two individuals. Hanging out with someone who can only talk about one thing is exhausting.

(Translation of a Facebook post by Tomo Yara)

Legal Problems in the Henoko Lanfill Permit from a Human Rights Perspective

In the Okinawan gubernatorial election held on 16 November 2014, the 260,000 votes garnered by the incumbent Nakaima Hirokazu fell 100,000 short of the 360,000 votes gained by Onaga Takeshi, who was duly elected for his first term of office. The next day, 17 November, Onaga commented, “Throughout its long history, the issue of the right to self-determination has been ever-present for Okinawa and Ryukyu. Still today, many Okinawan citizens are uncomfortable with the presence of bases in the prefecture. This is not only because of the terrible battle that was fought here 70 years ago – there is a palpable sense of fear at what the future may bring. With peace at risk and there being no right of self-determination for us where peace and base issues are concerned, as an Okinawan-born politician I do not think that I am able to take on the responsibility of shaping the future for our children and grandchildren.” At the press conference held on 10 December to mark Onaga’s inauguration, he indicated that he would consider checking to see if there are flaws in his predecessor’s approval process for the reclamation of public water around the Henoko coastline. (Reported in the Ryukyu Shimpo on 18 November and 10 December).

Given access to the content to be screened for approval document by the Prefectural Administrative Information Center, I have found that there are matters regarding the Constitution of Japan and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that should have been taken in consideration, but were not. For this reason I would like to look from the following viewpoints in order to ascertain whether or not there were flaws in the process.

  1. Public Water Body Reclamation Approval Standards

Standards for approving the reclamation of public bodies of water are stipulated in the Public Water Body Reclamation Act, specifically in Article 4 of that act. The specific standards used on this occasion in the screening process (the specific interpretation of Article 4 of said act) were those issued in the Ministry of Construction Ports and Harbors Bureau Director’s circular notice of 14 June 1974. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (successor of the Ministry of Construction) explains that the standards outlined in each of the entries to Article 4, Paragraph 1 of the Public Water Body Reclamation Act represent the minimum criteria for approval to be granted. Even if the application meets all of these criteria, it is still possible to not grant the permit, as the screening is to take a comprehensive view of the application, including aspects such as the necessity of the reclamation.

Clause 1 of Paragraph 1 requires that the reclamation be “an appropriate and rational use of national land.” In order to be “appropriate,” the reclamation itself and the use of land thereby created must of course be in accordance with the law, as well as the Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Fortunately both Japan and the United States are signatories to the ICCPR.

  1. Relation between the ICCPR and domestic laws

Since adopting the Meiji Constitution, Japan has employed a legal system in which the ratification of international treaties has seen laws come into effect without the country actually needing to establish a new domestic law. International treaties take precedence over laws, and domestic laws that do not conform to an international treaty are judged as being invalid. In the case of Japan’s ratification of the ICCPR there is no “reservation” specifically excluding Article 1, so it has binding force as a domestic law.

  1. Content of the ICCPR

Article 1 of the ICCPR states: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Governments are obliged to “promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.”

In contrast to the other articles, in Article 1 “peoples” are the subject exercising this right, rather than the individual. “Peoples” share history, ethnicity, language and culture, and refer to groups of people living in appropriate numbers in a certain geographical location, so this applies to the people of Okinawa. In Paragraph 32 of its concluding observations for the 5th report on the Japanese government, issued in 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Committee delivered a stern notice to Tokyo, saying, “The State party should expressly recognize the Ainu and Ryukyu/Okinawa as indigenous peoples in domestic legislation, adopt special measures to protect, preserve and promote their cultural heritage and traditional way of life, and recognize their land rights.”

  1. Qualitative differences between the political status of Okinawa and that of the main islands

Okinawa Prefecture 1) Existed as the Kingdom of the Ryukyus for 450 years between 1429 and 1879; 2) Became Okinawa Prefecture through the Meiji government’s policy of replacing feudal domains with modern prefectures in 1879 (the Ryukyu Disposition); 3) Was sacrificed in order to buy time before what Japan expected to be the final decisive battle with the Allies in 1945; 4) Saw homes destroyed and land seized using “bayonets and bulldozers” under the U.S. military occupation after Japan was defeated in the war; 5) Saw a message conveyed by the Showa Emperor through Imperial Household Agency purveyor Terasaki Hidenari to William Sebald, political adviser to the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, expressing a desire that, under the U.S.-Japan bilateral treaty, the United States continue a long-term military occupation of the Ryukyu Islands under a long-term lease retaining Japanese sovereignty (former University of Tsukuba professor Shindo Eiichi, “Divided Territory,” Sekai, 1979 April issue; and 2002 Iwanami Gendai monograph of the same name); 6) Was placed under U.S. military administration even after Japan regained independence in 1952, according to Article 3 of the U.S.-Japan Peace Treaty; 7) Remained home to a large number of U.S. military bases even after reversion to the mainland in 1972; 8) Saw even more bases relocated from the mainland, meaning that for over 40 years, the burden of 74% of bases exclusively for use by the U.S. military in Japan has been borne by just 0.6% of its land mass, Okinawans have been unable to use their own land freely, and have been forced to suffer, on a daily basis, the harm and danger of military aircraft crashes, noise pollution, and incidents such as the violent rape of a young girl.

Yanaihara Tadao, a professor in the Faculty of Economics of Tokyo Imperial University before and during the war who researched and wrote on colonial issues from the perspective of the colonized, visited the University of the Ryukyus in 1957. There he stated, “When a country’s objectives in ruling and utilizing a colony are primarily military and strategic in nature, in academic terms we classify that colony as a military colony” (Assertions and Essays, University of Tokyo Press, 1957; pg. 215). In the same year, an article he published in the Asahi Shimbun stated, “The Price Report clearly states that the United States’ objectives in ruling Okinawa are based on military necessity. In other words, Okinawa is a military colony” (“Okinawa’s Problems as Seen from the Ground,” January 28).

Yoshida Kensei, former professor in the Faculty of International Studies at Oberlin University, quotes Yanaihara on the title page of one of his books and states that when one examines “the ‘Little Americas’ on the other side of the fences surrounding the U.S. military bases on Okinawa; the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement protecting the U.S. military, members of the military, and their families; the massive ‘sympathy budget’ for the bases provided by Japan; the system in which some Okinawan landowners and municipalities depend on income from the bases; and the way in which the Japanese government has created this situation,” it is not inappropriate to call Okinawa a “military colony” (Okinawa: Military Colony, Kobunken, 2007; pg. 7).

Thus, it is clear that the political status of Okinawan residents is definitively lower than that of residents of mainland Japan.

  1. Methods of decision-making available to citizens

Because Article 1 of the ICCPR does not specify the methods by which citizens can make decisions or exercise rights on the basis of the right to self-determination, when it is possible to accomplish ones aims using the country’s legal system, it is preferable to do so. The obligation of state parties to abide by the treaty lies in realizing the people’s rights regardless of method.

  1. Will of the Okinawan people

The will of the Okinawan people regarding the political status of Okinawa in light of the construction of a new base after the reclamation of land off the coast of Henoko was clearly demonstrated in two gubernatorial elections, the Nago mayoral election, and the Lower House election, in which this issue became a primary point of contention. What the Okinawan people want is not to gain political independence from the mainland, nor is it the immediate closure of all military bases. Their desire is the extremely humble wish to be freed from further reinforcement of Okinawa’s status as a “military colony” under the U.S. and Japanese governments. They want to be freed from threats to their lives and ongoing damage inflicted upon their physical and mental health and their economy. They wish that Okinawa’s oceans be maintained and the diverse and rare life forms residing therein be allowed to flourish as a natural wealth deeply tied to Okinawa’s cultural identity. They want to be able to freely use this natural wealth as an important resource for tourism.

  1. Obligations of the Japanese and U.S. governments

It is not only the Japanese government that bears an obligation toward the Okinawan people, the U.S. government also has a responsibility. Both governments’ “obligation to promote” the realization of Okinawan right of self-determination lies in their obligation to, for the present, close the Futenma base, which is located in an area with high population density and has been called the most dangerous base in the world, in order to ameliorate the status of Okinawa as a military colony. Their “obligation to respect” lies in their obligation to respect the will of the Okinawan people to maintain Henoko’s natural resources and not alter the present situation (in other words, not construct a new base).

  1. Obligation to eliminate discrimination

Article 2 of the ICCPR and Article 14 of its constitution require the Japanese government to not differentiate between the people living in its main islands and Okinawa in terms of the burden imposed by the presence of U.S. military bases. If we follow the thrust of the Supreme Court precedents regarding the disparity in the relative weight of one vote, the ratio of 123 to 1 (74 divided by 0.6) can in no way be seen to be a rational division of burden, and as such is a clear violation of the constitution. This overwhelming unbalance needs to be rectified. Even if it is designed to remove the risks posed by Futenma Air Station, the construction of a permanent new base cannot be described as “appropriate and rational use” of national land, and as such this violates Article 2 of the ICCPR, Article 14 and also Article 98, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution which states, “The treaties concluded by Japan and established laws of nations shall be faithfully observed.”

Managing foreign relations is the function of the cabinet, but it goes without saying, as the constitution states, that “no law, ordinance, imperial rescript or other act of government, or part thereof, contrary to the provisions hereof, shall have legal force or validity.” (Article 98, Paragraph 2)

  1. Extraneous factors must not be taken into account when exercising discretionary powers

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism application approval criteria give a prefectural governor broad discretionary powers. With regard to the exercising of those discretionary powers, not taking into consideration what should be considered and taking into consideration other extraneous factors is forbidden as a type of abuse of those powers. On this matter, the following summarized extract from a verdict given in the Tokyo High Court on 13 July 1973 in the “Nikko Taro-Cedar Case” should be used as a point of reference (Administrative Case Report: Vol. 24. 6-7 pp. 533.)

“While the plaintiff, the Minister of Construction, judges that this project should be acknowledged as appropriate and rational use of land, this judgment reflects an unreasonable and casual disregard for the land in question and its immediate surroundings having immeasurable cultural value and for the protection of the environment, both of which are matters that by rights should have been given the greatest attention. As a result, the plaintiff has failed to make every effort to find a harmonious balance between the requests to protect these trees and the need to widen the road, and has also taken into consideration the forecast increase in traffic on the road due to the holding of the Olympics, which is a matter that by rights should not be considered. Furthermore, the plaintiff places excessive significance on the possibility of trees falling over in strong winds and causing disruption to traffic and the possibility of the trees becoming weakened [and therefore dangerous]. There are flaws in both the method and process by which this judgment has been reached, and had these flaws not been present and if a correct judgment had been made on these points, it is possible that the judgment of the plaintiff, the Minister of Construction, may have been different.”

The approval granted by the previous governor, Nakaima Hirokazu, does not take the comprehensive view required by the 1974 circular notice of the Ministry of Construction of Articles 1 and 2 of the ICCPR, or of Article 14 and Article 98, Paragraph 2 of the constitution. On the contrary, extraneous factors were taken in consideration with Prime Minister Abe’s promise of “historical budget” making for “a good New Year,” so the judgment is flawed both in terms of the method and process used in exercising authority, and therefore is illegal.

  1. Conclusion

The results of the latest gubernatorial election and the last Lower House election have further highlighted the will of the people of Okinawa. With this, the flaws in an approval of the reclamation that has ignored the will of the people have become that much clearer.

Holding broad powers over the reclamation permit as he does, the prefectural governor’s annulling the permit not only represents a totally appropriate use of authority, but will also serve to rectify the fact that both the Japanese and U.S. governments have failed to fulfill their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and that the Japanese government has violated its constitution. In his position as a public servant, annulling the reclamation permit will also mean that he should be lauded for fulfilling his responsibility to defend the Constitution and respect Japan’s treaty obligations.

(Translated from the weekly “Law Newspaper”, Kanagawa Prefecture, Kamakura City, 20.February 2015.)

(Original article by Kumano Katsuyuki. Translation by Mark Ealey, Sandi Aritza and Satoko Norimatsu)

Marines on Okinawa and the Threat of China

March 8, 2015

Starting off Sunday morning with a depressing topic…

Last weekend, I got a phone call from a prefectural assembly member who supports Governor Onaga at prefectural assembly meetings. He wanted me to tell him about the use of the U.S. marines stationed on Okinawa. He said, “At a prefectural assembly meeting, some LDP assembly members questioned Governor Onaga’s opposition to the relocation of the Futenma base to Henoko, arguing that the base would be necessary in the case of an invasion by China.” He said he needed a counterargument. A counterargument, indeed.

Of course the LDP assembly members are going to use the threat of China as an excuse to justify relocating MCAS Futenma to Henoko. If there’s a face-off with China, Okinawa will be sacrificed once again.

The strategic plan that the U.S. military is investigating for use in the event of a conflict with China is said to be an air-sea battle. According to the plan, at the beginning of the war, the U.S. will initially retreat in order to avoid being attacked. Since it is so close, after the U.S. military retreats, Okinawa will be left right smack in the middle of the front line of battle.

Then the U.S. will then cut off China’s energy supply, destroy their radar network, hit them with a cyberattack, and blindfold them. After that, defeating them will be a piece of cake.

Furthermore, the U.S. deployed 540 thousand troops in the Battle of Okinawa, 500 thousand at the peak of the Vietnam War, and 500 thousand in the Gulf War just to fend off the Iraqi troops that had invaded Kuwait. There are 25 thousand troops in Okinawa now. Their main force consists of 18 thousand marines, a number which will be cut in half after the U.S. military realignment, in which the central units will be relocated to Guam.

Considering this reality, tying the threat of China to the base problem in Okinawa is a kind of malevolent political terrorism. Politicians are inciting fear in the people and distorting the policy debate. It’s almost like the post-war has ended and we are back in the prewar period. If the LDP Diet members and prefectural assembly members consider themselves to be conservatives, they should put forward a fair argument based on reality. When they were campaigning to be elected they claimed to want the base relocated outside Okinawa, but now they have gone back on their campaign promises by accepting Henoko as a potential site for relocation. This type of political fraud is irredeemable by any means.

(Translation of a Facebook post by Tomo Yara)