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Defense Ministry Breaks Resistance on Yonaguni

SNA (Tokyo) — Last year the Defense Ministry began floating a plan to the media suggesting that they wanted to build a GSDF radar base on the remote island of Yonaguni, a stone’s throw from Taiwan, as a measure to keep an eye on Chinese naval activities in the seas around Okinawa Prefecture.

The plan is to base one hundred or more GSDF officers permanently on this tiny island, which is less than 30 square kilometers in size and has a total population of around 1,700 people.

Some argue that having the GSDF radar base will bring a bit of cash to the poor local economy and thus should be welcomed from a development perspective. Others point out that if there should ever be a military conflict between Beijing and Tokyo in the future, the little island of Yonaguni would now likely be target number one in any Chinese assault.

Yonaguni Mayor Shukichi Hokama emerged as the main obstacle to the realization of the plan. While he is basically a conservative and didn’t oppose it outright, he demanded that the central government pay a US$10 million “nuisance fee” to the local authorities to make up for any troubles that might attend the construction of the GSDF base.

The Defense Ministry and national security conservatives in Tokyo were offended, making comments that suggested Mayor Hokama was some kind of highway robber trying to gain personal benefits off the nation’s crucial security needs.

The rightwing Channel Sakura, for example, singled out Mayor Hokama for attack. Satoru Mizushima declared in early April, “He is more interested in money than in defending the lives of the island’s people… he has no consciousness as a defender of the nation or even as a citizen of the nation.”

It appeared for some months that building the GSDF radar base would either face long delays or perhaps the plan might even be scrapped altogether.

But then, on the 18th, Mayor Hokama suddenly announced that he was withdrawing his request for the US$10 million nuisance fee, explaining, “Since receiving payment as a so-called cooperation fee is impossible, I would like to find another way to advance the development of the island.”

Mayor Hokama isn’t telling the media exactly what changed his mind and why he decided to drop his demand, but it may well have something to do with the fact that a few days earlier the Yonaguni Defense Association, a local organization comprising 82 influential local citizens and which had been a supporter of Mayor Hokama, began describing him as engaging in “acts that betray the nation” and making it clear that they would raise an independent candidate to unseat him in mayoral elections scheduled for this August.

It does not seem like too much of a stretch to infer that the Defense Ministry encouraged its local allies to pressure Mayor Hokama and that he buckled under this assault.

It’s only fair to acknowledge, however, that when interviewed by the Okinawa Times, Mayor Hokama denied this interpretation: “It has nothing to do with the election. I haven’t even decided whether or not I’m running for reelection. If the conservatives are divided, only the opposition benefits.”

Back in Tokyo, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera remarked, “The defense of the southwest region is vitally important. For the sake of the security environment we would like to study the deployment of the Self-Defense Forces.”