Japan Peace Conference 2006
Secretary General, Iwakuni Peace Committee
Chair, Association to Get Strength from the Referendum
Iwakuni City is situated 35 kilometers southwest from Hiroshima City. Two thirds or 5.7 million square meters of a delta in the Nishiki River that runs through the city into the Seto Inland Sea, along with the surrounding sea area of about 20 million square meters, have been used as a base for the US Third Marine Expeditionary Force fightersﾕ unit. Making it as an excuse to meet the residentsﾕ wish for the eradication of damage such as noise pollution and plane crashes, a plan to construct an additional base, so-called the "project to relocate a runway to the offshore," is currently underway. It is scheduled to be complete in Spring 2009.
In addition, the relocation plan of a unit of the U.S. carrier-based aircraft from Atsugi base to the new base was come up with. The relocation will make Iwakuni base the largest air base in Asia in terms of the number of aircraft, exceeding Kadena base. It is aimed at strengthening and making more effective the functions of ﾒstrike force2 in combined operations with US Marines and Navy. Iwakuni is being turned out to be the most dangerous base for Asia and the rest of the world.
The Yamaguchi Prefectural Organizing Committee for the Abrogation of Japan-US Security Treaty and Removal of Iwakuni Base organized a rally on June 19 last year in cooperation with activists in Chugoku and Shikoku regions. With the participation of 3500 people, we encircled Iwakuni base, opposing the plan. We believe that this action triggered the development of the struggle of local people.
The Iwakuni mayor in a city assembly last June expressed opposition to the relocation plan, saying "It will totally change the characteristics of the base and will cause an enormous damage to the residents." The Iwakuni City assembly on June 23 also adopted a resolution opposing the plan. This move was followed by a decision of the federation of neighbors' associations in Iwakuni City to oppose the plan and an unprecedented signature campaign against the plan in which more than half of Iwakuni city population endorsed. This opposition movement has spread to areas affected by the base such as the western part of Hiroshima.
However, after the "interim report" of the "2-plus-2" was released, the Japanese government increased pressure on the Yamaguchi governor, a group led by the Iwakuni City Assembly chair, the City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and heads of surrounding towns and villages so that they began to insist that they should start a negotiation on conditions to accept the plan. The mayor, who had consistently kept the position of opposition, decided to hold a referendum. On March 12, about 87 percent of voters or more than half of eligible voters expressed their rejection to the relocation plan.
Citizens' groups worked very hard to make a success of the referendum. We formed an organization called "Let's Check 'Nay' to the Acceptance of US Carrier-Borne Aircraft Association". It was consisted of trade unions, democratic organizations and political parties which had worked for the abrogation of the Security Treaty and removal of military bases. We thought that we should not impose on local people the policy of these organizations, but we should take up the demand of the broadest range of people, putting aside differences in thought, creed, and social positions. We decided to focus our action on calling on local people to go to vote and express their opinions.
Those who support the relocation launched a campaign calling for boycotting the referendum. Their argument was: "Defense is a matter that the national government has to deal with", "It is no use of opposing. Rather, it will be better to get something in return." This seemed to cause a negative effect. Local people started to say, "The boycott campaign holds local people in contempt"; and "If we keep silent, the government may try to impose unlimited burdens on us." This sound and common sense of local people brought about the result of referendum.
On March 20, Iwakuni City merged with surrounding seven towns and villages, and the mayoral election was held on April 23. It became a contest between former Mayor Ihara Katsusuke who urged the cancellation of the relocation plan, and his rival who was fully supported by the government and the Liberal Democratic Party. Ihara overwhelmingly won the election with getting 69 percent of the votes.
The referendum and the mayoral election were the first and great opportunity for Iwakuni people to express their opinion on the base issue. The result of both cases showed the strong anger of local people on the plan. First is their anger at damage of the base. Local people, including even those who think the security treaty and the base necessary, feel that they cannot endure any longer the damage of the base. Another anger turns to the deception of the "project to relocate a runway to the offshore", which I referred to at the beginning.
A "road map" was announced on May 1, and the Japanese government adopted it at a Cabinet meeting at the end of May. Since then, the government has strengthened its pressure on Iwakuni mayor to give in, using local economic promotion measures as a lure. It is true that part of residents now has a pessimistic feeling: "No matter how strongly we oppose, the plan is doomed to be implemented." There also is an illusion of the local economic promotion measures among some people. At the same time, some people are getting to be aware of the truth that these problems would never occur if there were no base in our city.
On October 22, a city assembly election took place for the first time since the merger. More than half of 34 seats were taken by the candidates who had opposed the relocation plan. But it is far from reassuring on what direction the new assembly will take. It is a hope that Iwakuni mayor has kept his stance of opposition. Anyway, it is the public opinion that sustains the attitude of the mayor and the city assembly. Local people are aware of it through the referendum, the mayoral election, and the city assembly election.
Our organization changed its name from "Let's Check 'Nay' to the Acceptance of US Carrier-Borne Aircraft Association" to the "Association to Get Strength from the Referendum." We are determined to continue strenuous struggle, helping and encouraging each other. We started to put up posters which read: "When we say 'No!' It means 'NO!' "Don't come, carrier-borne aircraft!" and "All we want is a quiet sky."
The US military realignment plan was a big contradiction in particular for those who had believed that the Japan-US Security Treaty and bases were necessary. We are going to pursue joint effort on agreed points with local people. We also have to spread more dialogue with local people. At the same time, we will develop solidarity and joint action with people working against military bases across Japan, including Okinawa and Kanagawa, as well as peace loving people of the world (the preamble of the Constitution).