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Japan considers radical change to Henoko airfield agreement

Date Posted: 2010-07-20

Japan is considering building a single runway on the planned offshore replacement facility designed to replace Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, a concept thought to appease citizens unhappy with the 2006 agreement made by then-Prime Minister Junicho Koizumi.

The plan is designed to give Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his cabinet some wiggle room over implementing the controversial agreement that was reaffirmed in late May by his predecessor, then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who resigned only days after signing the latest agreement. The U.S. is expected to balk at the proposal.

The new proposal would call for constructing a single runway instead of the two 2,500-meter-long, V-shape runways for which an environmental impact statement has already been prepared. Japanese officials say the new plan would take up less space, and the already-approved environmental impact statement would apply. It would, however, require moving the runways farther offshore in Oura Bay instead of being connected to Camp Schwab.

The land reclamation project to create the new airfield’s runways is still up in the air because Okinawa’s governor must first approve it, and Governor Hirokazu Nakaima is expected to avoid making any decisions before the November gubernatorial elections. Nakaima has been seen as generally supportive of the runways plan, with the proviso they be moved a little farther offshore than spelled out in the earlier agreement.

The plan now on the books was designed to keep planes from flying over three residential areas near Camp Schwab, but a detached single runway would not provide this buffer. Officials concede it will be difficult to gain U.S. support for the change, particularly prior to the end of August deadline for lining up specifics for moving the project forward. The United States position is that the 2006 agreement should be implemented as is, with the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, calling it the “best plan” for everyone. A single runway would reduce the airfield’s capabilities.

As the controversy mounts, the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly has again adopted a resolution pushing Tokyo and Washington to review the agreement. The resolution calls the agreement an outrageous act that disregards the democratic process and insults Okinawans.

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