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Hatoyama decision: Futenma moves to Schwab as planned

Date Posted: 2010-05-28

In a move that pleased no one, unless it was the United States, Japan’s Prime Minister came to Okinawa Sunday spouting repeated “Gomenesai’s” to the prefecture’s governor, city mayors and hundreds of demonstrators who weren’t pleased with his decision to forge ahead with the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station relocation pact approved in May 2006.

Yukio Hatoyama was on the island for the second time in a month to both apologize to Okinawa for deciding to press on with the original relocation plan for Futenma, and to appeal for understanding from the governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, and Nago City Mayor Susumu Inamine, who campaigned for his post on a promise to block the transfer to Nago City’s Henoko district and Camp Schwab. “This is a heartbreaking conclusion I’ve reached to return the Futenma base”, Hatoyama told Nakaima. “I offer my heartfelt apology for causing confusion to the people of the prefecture in the process of being unable to keep the promise to move it out of the prefecture.”

His decision puts the original agreement made by his predecessors in play, a pair of V-shape, 2,500-meter-long runways built on reclaimed land in Oura Bay adjacent to Camp Schwab. The environmental assessment activities for the new base have been under way for nearly three years. The agreement called for completing the Futenma move from its location on a hilltop surrounded by densely populated areas of Ginowan City. He admitted to giving up on the idea of moving Futenma out of Okinawa Prefecture, citing “remaining uncertainties in East Asia”, referring first to the tense situation in Korea, and also to the growing military strength of China.

Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who prior to last year’s elections had supported the Futenma move to Henoko and Camp Schwab, with the provision the U.S. and Japanese governments agree to moving the runways further into Oura Bay in the interests of safety and noise pollution prevention. Now, Nakaima’s changed his tune, telling the Prime Minister “the gap between people’s expectations is huge. I expect you to take time to offer further explanations and work out a solution that will satisfy us.” Nakaima later declared Hatoyama “betrayed” Okinawa.

An official announcement of the Futenma relocation plan is expected tomorrow in Tokyo. The Prime Minister says his government will continue hammering out details in negotiations with the United States. He’s asking other prefectures to help relieve Okinawa’s burden of supporting American troops by accepting some of the military drills now conducted on Okinawa. While in Okinawa Hatoyama met with Inamine and 11 other mayors to appeal for their support, but found little during his one-day visit. “I can’t hide my rage at the new Japan-U.S. accord as it betrays the sentiment of the people of Nago and Okinawa,” Inamine told Hatoyama directly. “As Nago mayor, I express my firm opposition. Nago needs no new base.” He told Inamine the Futenma move is “close to zero” because of momentum against the idea.

Okinawa has U.S. troops and bases on about 75% of the land area used for American military operations in Japan, and has more than half the 50,000 U.S. troops in the country. “I decided it is utmost importance that we place the Japan-U.S. relationship on a solid relationship of mutual trust, considering the current situation in the Korean Peninsula and in Asia,” he told reporters following his return to Tokyo.

With announcement of the agreement, the Futenma relocation sets the stage for 8,000 U.S. Marines to move from Okinawa to Guam in 2014. Hatoyama says concern for the environment and safety of residents in the Henoko area will be of utmost importance. His Chief Cabinet Secretary, Hirofumi Hirano, says the turmoil of the past few months is worth it, and says the government will explain soon exactly why the Henoko area was chosen, and why it’s not all bad for Okinawa and all of Japan. “Please wait a little bit,” he says, “as we are making final adjustments” with the United States. The U.S. position has long been that the new airbase be built on the coast of Camp Schwab because of the environmental impact assessment conducted for the 2006 agreement is almost complete and would avoid further delays.

Hatoyama’s coalition partners are seething at the decision. The leader of the Social Democratic Party, Mizuho Fukushima, is threatening to pull her small but critical coalition group out of the government if the Futenma decision stands. She and the SDP have called for the airbase being moved out of Okinawa. Her party’s Diet affairs chief, an SDP member elected in Okinawa, has suggested the SDP pull out of the government if the Henoko plan is approved. Kantoku Teruya says he’ll leave the party himself to express his opposition if Hatoyama moves forward with the plan. Hatoyama’s announcement in Okinawa Sunday came a day after Tokyo and Washington had come to an agreement to build the base at Henoko and Camp Schwab. The U.S., for its part, has indicated it will consider moving some Futenma functions out of Okinawa Prefecture. A detailed relocation plan is expected to be announced by the two nations by September.

Some 400 protesters rallied outside sites where Hatoyama and his team, as well as Governor Nakaima, were meeting. They held signs saying “anger” and demanding Futenma be moved out of the prefecture. Officials noted that if the plan does not move forward, and construction cannot start on the new land reclamation project necessary to build the runways, the existing Futenma base would remain in service.

Guam, which will receive the 8,000 Marines, reacted with cautious optimism. Guam Senator Judith P. Guthertz says she’s been following Hatoyama’s actions from the very beginning of his taking office, and notes “I predicted that the Prime Minister would eventually stop his procrastinating and recognize that Japan would have to honor the original agreement it entered into with the U.S. She chairs the Committee on Military Buildup and Homeland Security in the Senate, adding that “the Japanese Prime Minister has much to lose if the agreement is not honored.”

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