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Okinawans tell Hirano ‘No’ on Futenma

Date Posted: 2010-01-14

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary heard Okinawans clearly this week; they don’t want Futenma Marine Corps Air Station relocated within the prefecture.

Hirofumi Hirano spent three days in Okinawa Prefecture, touring the Marines’ facility in Ginowan City and several proposed relocation sites, and listened to politicians, the prefecture governor and ordinary citizens who were crystal clear that Futenma should be moved out of Okinawa. Hirano is heading a new government panel reviewing the Futenma issue, and will advise Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on how to resolve the controversial airfield relocation issue.

Hatoyama has deferred until May making a decision on where to move Futenma. A 2006 Japan-U.S. Agreement called for building a replacement facility in Nago City’s Henoko District, with ground facilities on the Camp Schwab Marine Corps Base, and runways extending on reclaimed land in Oura Bay. The Prime Minister has, at least for the moment, rejected honoring the earlier agreement, saying he’ll look for alternative sites before making a final decision.

Hirano inspected the Futenma base, as well as potential relocation sites. “As a member of the government, I view the base problem as a major political issue,” he said, “and want to consider everything in the context of the current situation. I came to see for myself, and hear for myself, the voices of the people in the prefecture.” He traveled north to Henoko to get a first-hand look at the proposed site, and then flew by helicopter to Ie and Shimoji Islands, two other sites being pushed as potential replacement airfield sites.

“Relocation sites are being studied without preconditions,” Hirano says, noting that he and his panel may also inspect sites outside Okinawa in coming months. Hirano says his government is discussing the Futenma issue, and the Status of Forces Agreement, with the U.S. government “based on a relationship of trust.”

Okinawa’s governor, for his part, spent much of his meeting with the Chief Cabinet Secretary reiterating that prefecture residents are firmly committed to the Marine Corps Base being moved outside Okinawa. “Prefecture residents hope to see the air station moved outside of the prefecture,” Nakaima said during their meeting at Prefecture Government Offices, “so please answer their call.”

Hirano says Okinawa may be asked to continue bearing part of the burden of hosting U.S. troops, including maintaining the airfield in Okinawa. Hirano told the governor “we may have to ask for your decision,” while saying his panel could consider the entire Futenma issue “from scratch, in which case the government may ask the local government for a ‘political decision’ in the course of the discussions.”

Nakaima told Hirano Okinawa Prefecture is seeking a review of the 1960 Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, and is also asking for help in getting some of the American military training programs moved to other sites.

Hirano says his government will make the final decisions later this year, taking into consideration the thoughts not only of the Democratic Party of Japan, but also of its two junior coalition parties. The Social Democratic Party, one of the two junior parties, has demanded Futenma be moved out of Okinawa, and out of Japan completely.

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