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Senator visits Okinawa to study Futenma issue

Date Posted: 2010-02-18

An American senator serving on the Armed Services Committee is taking time for a first-hand look at Okinawa and the controversy surrounding the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.

James Webb, a Democratic senator from Virginia who’s also served as Secretary of the Navy, is spending a week touring Japan and Okinawa, meeting with military and civilian leaders as he “listens to all suggestions from the Japanese government and the people of Okinawa.” Webb, a former U.S. Marine who’s visited Okinawa dozens of times in the past, predicts “there can be a number of practical options on how to resolve the Futenma matter.”

The former Marine says, though, that he believes the plan to move Futenma to Henoko on Okinawa’s north side, makes the most sense. While not specifically endorsing the 2006 bilateral agreement between Japan and the U.S. that called for moving Futenma to a newly created airfield on Camp Schwab, with runways extending into the nearby Oura Bay, he does say he thinks it’s essential to have the new base. He asked reporters to “consider what the stability of this region would be like if we were to withdraw militarily from Japan.”

Webb is on his first Japan visit since the Japanese government switched from Liberal Democratic Party to Democratic Party of Japan hands last August. He says Japan remains a key American ally, despite the tension over where to relocate Futenma. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s administration is encountering shaky times with his coalition that includes the Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and People’s New Party. Each has different ideas on what to do about Futenma, and the smaller parties have threatened to break away if their voices are not listened to.

Webb’s visit comes as support for Hatoyama’s cabinet has dropped another 6.8 percentage points to 39%, and non-support rose an equal percentage amount to 45.6%. Equally troublesome for Hatoyama are poll numbers that show 38% of respondents want Futenma moved out of Japan, while another 32% think the base should move to Camp Schwab as previously agreed. Another 15% think the base should move outside Okinawa but within Japan, and still another 7% think the base should be built in Okinawa, but not at Camp Schwab. More than 85% of those polled think Hatoyama will have difficulty resolving the Futenma issue by May, as he promised.

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