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‘Delays’ key word in describing Futenma move

Date Posted: 2010-07-29

From Japan’s Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister to the U.S. Secretary of State, the question of when to make key decisions on moving Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to northern Okinawa is on the tips of tongues, with most—if not all—saying nothing can happen on the relocation without consent from Okinawa.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan has been listening to his Defense Minister, Toshimi Kitazawa, and Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada on when it’s the right time to set forth details on the upcoming move detailed in a May agreement calling for technical details on the Futenma move to be ironed out before the end of August. Kan’s ministers are holding out for a delay until after Okinawa’s November gubernatorial election in hopes of having festering protests against the base relocation hopefully subdue. A May 2006 pact between the U.S. and Japan called for moving Futenma to the Henoko area of Nago City in northern Okinawa, with the runways on Camp Schwab extending into the adjacent Oura Bay.

The U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has joined Japanese Foreign Minister Okada in agreeing that obtaining Okinawa’s consent for the move slated for 2014 is absolutely critical. Clinton and Okada agree that the move must take place, and say the two countries will continue with planning for the relocation, but that decisions and public announcements should wait until December. They say that their technical experts are still at work to meet the end of August deadline for resolving technical issues on exactly where the runways and other facilities will be, and how they’re to be constructed. Both Okada and Clinton reiterated during their meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, that the project cannot be moved forward without Okinawa’s blessing.

Although observers believe a delay to late 2010 would impact timing of the scheduled move, Japan’s ‘Chief Cabinet Secretary says that’s not so. Yoshito Sengoku says the Futenma operations will move on time, and that there will be no changes or delays in the scheduled move of 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam once the new airfield is operational.

The governors of 14 prefectures that host U.S. military bases, meanwhile, have held their own meetings and are calling for the central government to take steps to reduce burdens borne by Okinawa. The governors, under leadership of Kanagawa Governor Shigefumi, are also asking for the Tokyo government to include them in discussions on U.S. bases, to include creating a special organization that would let them participate in the decision-making processes. Okinawa’s Governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, told the governors Okinawa is still not getting good answers from the central government about relocation plans. Nakaima, vice chairman of the governors group, says he and Okinawa Prefecture constituents are angry and insulted about not being consulted on local issues. The governors group is asking for formal meetings with the U.S. and Japanese governments, something that hasn’t happened since 2008.

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