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Politicos mull new Futenma relocation options

Date Posted: 2010-02-18

The principal parties in the Japanese government coalition are trying to form a consensus on how to deal with the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station relocation issue, but they’re having difficulty even getting their meeting schedules together.

Leaders of the Democratic Party of Japan, Social Democratic Party and People’s New Party earlier this week postponed a coalition working group meeting on Futenma. The parties are looking for common ground on what to do with Futenma, and where to relocate it. The latest idea from the People’s New Party chief is that “it is best to find a site somewhere outside of Okinawa.” Shizuka Kamei says, though, that “the idea of building a land-based replacement on Camp Schwab is a strong option.”

The central government headed by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is reportedly eying the same concept, hinting a Futenma relocation completely on land at Camp Schwab is not out of the question, although officials are saying it would be difficult. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa thinks the proposal has merit, and has reportedly asked Okinawa’s Mikio Shimoji, the People’s New Party Policy Affairs Council chairman, to support it.

Shimoji’s party, along with representatives of the Social Democratic Party, were in Guam a week ago looking for ways to move Futenma there. Those ideas were met with a chilling response from many Guam leaders, bringing the issue back to Okinawa. Shimoji has long advocated the shift of Futenma operations to Henoko be scrapped. An agreement made between Japan and the United States in May 2006 called for closing Futenma once a replacement airfield was built at Camp Schwab, with a pair of V-shape runways extending into Oura Bay on reclaimed land. Environmentalists have opposed the plan. The bilateral agreement stipulated that 8,000 Marines would be moved off Okinawa once the new airfield was built.

Shimoji, while arguing for a Futenma move outside Okinawa, says he will not agree to keeping Futenma “as is” in Ginowan City, where the base is now located in a densely populated area. Tomoko Abe’s policy-making board of the Social Democratic Party also opposes building the new airfield at Henoko.

Guam’s Governor, Felix Camacho, nixed the idea of moving more Marines or the Futenma facility to his island. Talking with representatives from the two Japanese political parties, Camacho said they needed to seek other alternatives because his citizens were opposed to accepting additional Marines to Guam. The SDP maintains they can convince Guam to accept more Marines if Japan offers money to improve the infrastructure to support them.

Another SDP idea is to consolidate Futenma operations at a Japanese Air Self Defense Force base in Nagasaki Prefecture, along with the Saga Airport in nearby Saga Prefecture. They also think moving F-15 fighter training from Kadena to the American airbase at Misawa in Aomori Prefecture, and other exercises to Kansai Airport in Osaka, would ease stress on Okinawa.

The island of Tinian, on the other hand, seemed open to having Marines. Benigno Fitial met with Tomoko Abe and Mikio Shimoji, telling them “we welcome anything that will benefit the commonwealth.” Fitial, the governor of the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Commonwealth that includes Tinian, says having a U.S. base would “invite the economic benefit in terms of employment, and most importantly, economic benefits that would be received from land leases.”

The People’s National Party is still pitching the idea of combining Futenma with Air Force operations at Kadena Air Base. The U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marines disagree with that plan, as do the mayors of Kadena Town, Chatan Town and Okinawa City, which surround the sprawling American air base.

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