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Nakaima asks Prime Minister to move Futenma

Date Posted: 2010-12-09

Okinawa’s governor has met with both Japan’s Prime Minister and a pair of local anti-base mayors to discuss relocating the contentious Futenma Marine Corps Air Station out of the prefecture, but his tone was different in the two meetings.

Governor Hirokazu Nakaima met with Prime Minister Naoto Kan to reiterate his opposition to moving Futenma from Ginowan City in central Okinawa to a northern coastal area that’s sparsely populated. He told the Prime Minister the central government should “rethink its bilateral accord with the United Sates and to move the base outside the prefecture,” and called on him for support.

Kan assured the governor his administration would deal with the Futenma issue “carefully” and “exchange opinions thoroughly” with Okinawa as they try to settle upon a “direction” about relocating the airbase. Kan told Nakaima he looks forward to visiting Okinawa “at an appropriate time” to meet with local citizens and political leaders. Following the meeting, Kan said he hoped to visit Okinawa sometime this month.

Nakaima told reporters following his session with the Prime Minister that Kan wouldn’t respond to specific issues, but gave assurances there would be continued exchanges of opinions on relocating Futenma. Tokyo and Washington in May reaffirmed a 2006 agreement to move Futenma elsewhere within Okinawa, with Nago City’s Henoko district at the Marine Corps Camp Schwab being the preferred location. “I said in my election platform that I will seek the review of the Japan-U.S. Agreement,” the governor said, asking Kan to “please work toward relocating it outside the prefecture.” Nakaima was reelected to a second-four year term as Okinawa’s governor on November 28th.

The Prime Minister has refused to set a date for any Futenma decision, and Governor Nakaima acknowledged the importance of American forces being in the Prefecture as part of an important Japan~U.S. Alliance. Nakaima’s position is that other prefectures should share the burden of hosting U.S. bases, pointing out that all of Japan benefits from the alliance, so should share equally in the responsibilities. Kan is set to visit the United States in spring, and many are calling for a decision to be reached by that time, but Kan says “of course the Futenma issue is a crucial issue, but I’m not thinking of setting a deadline.”

Two staunchly anti-base advocates whose communities are involved in the Futenma relocation are calling on Nakaima to join them in demanding the central government move the base outside Okinawa, but Nakaima’s resisting an alliance, instead saying only he’ll “discuss further” the possibility of teaming up, but for now “I have already told the government I want it relocated out of the prefecture.”

Mayor Susumu Inamine of Nago City, in whose community the new airbase would be located, and Mayor Takeshi Asato of Ginowan City, which would be free of Futenma once a new base is built, signaled disappointment they failed to get any clear agreement from Governor Nakaima during their first meeting with him at the Prefecture Headquarters. Nakaima told them “we want the whole of Japan to find a solution for the issue as U.S. forces in Okinawa are here to provide security not only for our prefecture, but for the entire East Asian region.”

Tension between the two Koreas, as well as between China and Japan over the disputed Senkaku Islands, have caused many political observers to suggest the Marine bases in Okinawa are more crucial than before.

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