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Futenma relocation plans deadline pushed back

Date Posted: 2010-08-26

August will come and go with no decisions made by the U.S. and Japanese governments on details of the proposed northern Okinawa airfield intended to replace Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.

The two governments had committed to making decisions on the relocation--to include its exact location and details of runway design—before the end of August, but now a new report expected out soon will shelve the decisions until later, possibly sometime in 2011. The decision to delay isn’t exactly unexpected; political pundits have been talking for weeks that Japan and the U.S. would back off, at least until after the November 28th gubernatorial election in Okinawa. Bilateral consultations among experts from the two countries have been going on this past week in Washington.

The interim report addresses two “feasible options” for the new airfield, one with the long-planned two V-shape runways, and a second with only a single runway. The report still signals pressing forward with construction in Nago City’s Henoko district, with much of the new base on the existing Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab. The delays are seen as an assist to the Prime Minister, who inherited the office after Yukio Hatoyama resigned the end of May after a series of gaffs and unfulfilled promises to rid Okinawa of the controversial Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. Naoto Kan’s government has been trying to placate Okinawa’s political base, encouraging Okinawa to understand the security ramifications of having the base on Okinawan soil, while at the same time accepting the nation’s apologies and appreciation for bearing the burdens of hosting the bulk of American troops in Japan.

The United States is reportedly committed to the dual runway plan agreed to in 2006, while Japan is now hedging and pitching the single runway approach that would reduce the land reclamation footprint required for the project. Kan’s government hopes the antagonism over the proposed airfield will die down and Okinawans will accept the new airfield.

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