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GOJ to talk to Okinawans about Futenma relocation

Date Posted: 2010-03-04

Japan’s Prime Minister is calling upon his government to move more quickly to resolve the issue of where to relocate the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, but even as talk floats that Tokyo will begin discussing relocation sites with America within days, he’s promising to listen to the people of Okinawa.

Yukio Hatoyama says there should not be talks with the U.S. about Futenma before his government talks to Okinawans and gauges their concerns. “If we’re going to settle everything by the end of May, the negotiations with and efforts to gain understanding from the people of Okinawa and the United States need to get under way basically at the same time,” Hatoyama said during discussions at his office. The Prime Minister spoke out after sources began saying talks with the U.S. could begin before March 15th.

Timing for talks with both Okinawa and the United States are being coordinated by the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Hirofumi Hirano. Hirano’s been heading a government committee studying potential relocation sites. Sources say the only thing the government is waiting for are the reports from the three ruling parties on where they’d like to see Futenma, and how they’d propose it be accomplished.

The Democratic Party of Japan is suggesting the relocation site at Camp Schwab in Nago City’s Henoko District is still possible, albeit with a change from V-shape runways extending into Oura Bay to land-based runways on Camp Schwab. The DPJ also thinks some Futenma functions could be moved to Kagoshima Prefecture. The government contends it’s not really qualified to conduct operational assessments, suggesting the task be levied on the United States and Japan’s Self Defense Forces.

Hatoyama, who opposed keeping Futenma on Okinawa during his election campaign last summer, has backed off and now suggests it’s possible a relocation site in an unpopulated area of northern Okinawa could work. The Social Democratic Party, one of the two small parties in Hatoyama’s coalition, is opposed to the base being in Japan, while the People’s New Party wants to base moved off Okinawa.

Complicating the issue are new statements from Mikio Shimoji, a People’s New Party leader from Okinawa. He’s being quoted as saying he’ll resign from the Diet June 1st if the Futenma relocation issue hasn’t been settled. Shimoji’s also told the media he wants Prime Minister Hatoyama to “be as determined as I am” in getting the issue settled. Shimoji’s PNP has suggested that a helicopter landing area be built at Camp Schwab, but that other Marine Corps aviation assets be moved to Kagoshima.

The man on the hot seat is Okinawa’s Governor, Hirokazu Nakaima. He’s the one who must actually sign the documents authorizing construction of a new airfield to be accomplished on Okinawa. Nakaima’s told Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano the central government should not bypass Okinawa, or go over its head, in discussions with the U.S. Nakaima hasn’t publicly changed his earlier position supporting Futenma’s relocation to Henoko as soon as possible, in order that the controversial Futenma Marine Corps Air Station located in densely populated Ginowan City can be quickly moved and closed.

The Okinawa Prefecture Assembly, for its part, has voted unanimously to adopt a written message to the central government demanding Futenma be moved outside Okinawa. Calling it “the most dangerous base in the world,” the Okinawa Assembly in its written document to the Prime Minister, recalls the August 2004 crash of a Marine Corps heavy lift helicopter onto the campus of Okinawa International University. No Okinawans were injured or killed when the cargo chopper crashed, but the Assembly fervently is appealing for action from Hatoyama.

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