Dec 20, 2013

Christmas Message 2013 from Niigata Diocese, Japan

Workshop for Bishops in Okinawa

The Japanese Catholic Bishops' Committee for Social Concern has organised 3-day field workshop in Okinawa island from Tuesday, 17 December to Thursday, 19 December.  9 Japanese Bishops and one Korean Bishop attended the workshop. Bishop Peter Kang of Cheju, Korea, who has almost the same kind of military issue in his diocese which is the navy base construction in Cheju island, joined the event since last workshop of the same committee was held in his diocese in January to visit the site of construction where Catholic community had been joining the local community in protest against the navy base construction.
On the first day, we had a study session on the topic of the Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces Agreement which allows US Forces to operate inside  Japan quite freely and make Japanese government responsible for their upkeep. Still today, quite a large area of Okinawa has been used as US bases and negotiation between Japan and US to relocate these facilities somewhere in Japan raises yet another problem of ecological destruction, danger for local community and division among local residents. In Japan, because of this Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces Agreement, most of the cost of the US military presence in Japan are covered by Japanese government's budget which is called "OMOIYARI" budget, means "budget allocation for sympathy" which includes quite a sum of money to pay rent for military facilities which had been used since the end of the WWII.  For example, almost USD 4 million a year for ground rent fee of the below mentioned JWTC are covered by this Omoiyari budget which is Japanese tax money  So it is not a free service by the US to protect Japan as such.

Behind the wall is the part of US Marine Base, Camp Schwab. In front of us is a beautiful tropical sea where saltwater manatee (Dugong) lives. During the Vietnam war, US government seems to try to build a runway for Marine Helicopter on this sea but could not materialise it because of budgetary limitations. Now after the SACO ( Special Action Committee for Okinawa) agreement in 1996 between US and Japan, Futenma base which is in middle of residential area was to return to Japan. Japanese government proposed to build two runway for helicopters on this sea in return for Futenma. Because of beauty of this sea and also because of the cost of landfill of this sea, and more over, because of destructive effect on environment, local residents are protesting to this plan since then for 17 years. Now Japanese government is waiting for a replay from Okinawa Governor, Mr.Nakaima, to grant permission to go ahead with landfill of this sea.

At the Jungle Warfare Training Center (JWTC) of the US 3rd Marine Division in Northern part of Okinawa. A map at the top left of the board in a photo is entire Okinawa island. The circled area is the JWTC. After the SACO agreement in 1996, almost half of the center was to return to Japan. In return, Japanese government proposed to build 6 helipads which are indicated as red dot in the enlarged map in this enlarged map, we can see these 6 helipads circles the village of TAKAE. The local community of TAKAE has been protesting the construction of these 6 helipads since combat helicopters in practice will fly over their village to reach these helipads.

Catholic Church, especially through the local diocese and National Justice and Peace Commission, has been trying to be with local people to achieve Okinawa without military facilities. Catholic Church has been urging Japanese in general to end sacrificing this beautiful island with their rich history and unique culture for the sake of National security interests.  Of course we do understand that this could not be realised so easily and it is highly depending on the decisions of Japanese leaders which should be supported by peace seeking people of Japan.