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It’s Official: Futenma will move to Henoko area and Camp Schwab

Date Posted: 2010-05-29

Japan and the United States Friday made it official: the relocation site for Futenma Marine Corps Air Station agreed to in May 2006 will, after all, be the location for the controversial airfield.

The two allies made the deal as had been expected this week, despite anger and outrage from the Japanese Prime Minister’s political allies and from Okinawans opposed to having a new military airfield on the island. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama won election last summer at least partially on a promise to rid Okinawa of Futenma, moving it at least outside Okinawa Prefecture if not Japan. He spent months trying to woo support, and to find another location where officials would accept the Marine Corps base, but failed.

Hatoyama came to Okinawa twice this month to apologize as he signaled Henoko and Camp Schwab would be the site for the unwanted airbase. He cited national security concerns as the reason for reversing his opinion. The United States, for its part, had opposed moving Futenma’s operations off Okinawa, or worse, splitting them between Okinawa and mainland Japan. The decision means the environmental assessment for the Henoko area will move forward “without significant delay”, with completion by the end of August.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa made the formal announcement, saying the two countries “recognize that a robust forward presence of U.S. military forces in Japan, including Okinawa, provides the deterrence and capabilities necessary for the defense of Japan, and for the maintenance of regional security.” They also conceded there’s still a need to address local outrage and irritation over the decision to put the base in northern Okinawa, despite the Japanese government’s earlier position opposing it.

“The Ministers recognized the importance of responding to the concerns of the people of Okinawa that they bear a disproportionate burden related to the presence of U.S. forces, and also recognized that the more equitable distribution of shared alliance responsibilities is essential for sustainable development of the alliance,” they said, adding that they’ll still consider ways to move at least some operations to Tokunoshima in southern Kagoshima Prefecture, or moving them out of Japan entirely.

The news did not sit well with governors of other Prefectures, who have been asked to accept some U.S. base missions or training sites from Okinawa. Some 18 of the 47 members of the National Governors Association skipped the meetings in Tokyo entirely. Only Osaka’s Governor, Toru Hashimoto, is speaking publicly that his city would be happy to have U.S. troops and facilities.

Okinawa’s Governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, did attend the conference, and again said most of the U.S. forces based in Okinawa should be moved out. “The current situation,” he said, “far surpasses the burden that Okinawa residents should be expected to shoulder as Japanese citizens. Many governors sided with Nakaima, with Kanagawa Prefecture’s Governor, Shigefumi Matsuzawa, saying “U.S. bases should be dispersed.” Still, aside from Osaka, no Japanese city or prefecture has stepped forward to volunteer.”

Some prefectures already host American bases, and they weren’t interested in having more. “I can’t persuade local residents to accept further relocations to our prefecture,” said Ishikawa Governor Masanori Tanimoto. Aomori Governor Shingo Mimura expressed concerns “we can’t accept any more base functions.” Only Osaka’s Hashimoto declared support for Hatoyama’s decision. “We haven’t hosted any U.s. bases,” he said, “so we should take the lead in shouldering some of the burden. We’d like to do the best we can.”

For Hatoyama’s beleaguered administration, the only bright spot was a note that he had met the promised May deadline for a decision. He must now convince his junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, to stay with him and the Democratic Party of Japan. Hatoyama fired a member of his cabinet Friday; Mizuho Fukoshima is also the head of the SDP.

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