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Gubernatorial candidates differ: Move Futenma out of Okinawa… or out of Japan?

Date Posted: 2010-11-13

Two men are vying for the privilege of being elected Governor of Okinawa Prefecture on November 28th, and much of their campaigning has them on similar tracks, except for exactly where Futenma Marine Corps Air Station should go.

Incumbent governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who once was a reluctant advocate of moving the controversial Marine Corps base from Ginowan City to a location in northern Okinawa, where its two V-shape runways would extend into Oura Bay from nearby Camp Schwab in Nago City’s Henoko district, has reversed course and is now declaring it should be moved out of Okinawa and let “all the Japanese people take on the responsibility, since they enjoy the fruits of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.”

His opponent, the former mayor of Ginowan City, says that’s not good enough. Yoichi Iha is arguing Futenma should be moved completely out of Japan, with his idea being “the troops based at Futenma should be moved to Guam.” The 58-year-old Iha contends that “rather than deepening the relationship with the United States in a manner that incorporates Japan within U.S. strategy, efforts should be made to convert it to a friendship treaty while placing more importance on ties with our neighbor China.”

The 71-year-old Nakaima disagrees, saying “the treaty should be maintained.” The governor is concerned that “while the treaty has contributed to peace in East Asia, including Japan, the region is still far from stable,” and thinks it is important the government continue with it. As for Futenma, he explains his change of position to changing political winds. “In the Nago mayoral election in January, an individual opposed to the move was elected, and former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said that at the least, Futenma should be moved out of Okinawa, but it reverted anyway, and that angered the Okinawa people because there was no explanation that would satisfy them.”

He says “there is almost no possibility” of Futenma moving within Okinawa, but wouldn’t go so far as to say it was impossible, noting that “Nago has said okay, and the central government has implemented economic stimulus measures based on that stance.” The current government led by the Democratic Party of Japan has reaffirmed an agreement to move Futenma to Henoko district.

The anti-base crusading Iha says he’ll call on both Japan and the United States to give up on the idea of moving Futenma. He believes the original 2006 agreement that spelled out moving Futenma to Henoko and transferring 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam also included moving the airbase itself. “According to U.S. public documents, Marine Aviation Corps will also move to Guam,” he says, and “the precondition of my argument is that those aviation assets should move to Guam, not Henoko.”

Iha says that “seeking a location outside of Okinawa to move Marines destined for Guam would be a waste of time,” and insists “fundamentally, the number of U.S. troops in Japan should be reduced. Over the past 50 years, has there ever been a threat to Japan?” he asks. “The U.S. military has used the bases in Japan to conduct war around the world. Keeping the Marines to serve as watchdog will not contribute to Japan’s national security.”

Okinawans, particularly those construction companies who’d hoped to garner lucrative construction contracts under the security pact, say it hasn’t happened. They note that public works spending over the past decade has plummeted from ¥430 billion down to ¥260 billion. Because of that, the construction association, which had supported Nakaima, has told its membership to vote however they want.

The All Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union Okinawa Chapter has also told its 6,500 members to make their own decisions on who to vote for for governor. Since Okinawa reverted to Japan in 1972, the prefecture’s gross income coming from base-related income such as rent on least land and base workers’ gross wages has dropped from 15.5% to now only 5%.

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