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Prime Minister to apologize during Okinawa visit

Date Posted: 2010-12-16

Japan’s Prime Minister is coming to Okinawa tomorrow on a two-day fence-mending visit that he says will include an “apology to the Okinawan people.”

Prime Minister Naoto Kan is heading to Okinawa Friday to exchange views with local officials on ways to boost the local economy, and to begin taking steps to get the planned relocation of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to northern Okinawa back on track. Kan says he’ll begin his visit to the southernmost Japanese prefecture with an apology for failure to relocate Futenma outside the prefecture. The apology, the Prime Minister’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary says, will stress what the nation’s leader “must do” in the future.

Tetsuru Fukuyama says the Prime Minister and his cabinet will work hard to cut back on Okinawa’s burden of hosting the U.S. military bases, maintaining a close liaison with Okinawa Prefecture officials. Kan himself reiterated his goal of winning Okinawans’ understanding of the Japan – U.S. alliance agreement, and says he’ll explain how moving the Futenma base from crowded Ginowan City to sparsely populated northern Okinawa will be better in terms of safety.

Kan, who last month in meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama, pledged to honor the 2006 Japan – U.S. agreement despite objections from Okinawans who want Futenma moved from the prefecture, says the base remaining in Okinawa is a necessity. His Democratic Party of Japan in elections a year ago had taken a stance calling for relocating the controversial Marine Corps installation out of Okinawa. His predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, failed to persuade other prefectures to accept some of the burden now borne by Okinawa, and also failed to placate Okinawa, a move that led to his resignation.

The two-day visit promises to be an uphill battle for the Prime Minister. Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, continues to vow an all-out series of actions to block the relocation and live up to his campaign pledge of moving Futenma to another prefecture, or out of Japan entirely. Nakaima, who won reelection November 28th, promises “I will make Okinawa a place where our children and grandchildren cn have big dreams and pride.” Speaking to the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly, he also promised to urge the central government to take steps to curb noise pollution in Kadena Town, which hosts the sprawling U.S. Kadena Air Base.

Nakaima, at the same time, wants to court the Prime Minister and his government team to gain support for renewing a special law supporting Okinawa development. The current law expires in March 2012, and Nakaima wants to get the framework of a replacement law ready by early next summer.

The governor says he’s going to talk very frankly with Prime Minister Kan, explaining the situation. He says he’s also going to meet with other prefecture governors in Tokyo next month, and urge their support for moving Futenma from Okinawa. Nakaima has been careful not to be overly critical of Tokyo, recognizing he needs the Kan government’s support to move Okinawa’s financial problems center stage, and get assistance.

Deputy Cabinet Secretary Fukuyama says the Kan cabinet is working hard to reduce Okinawa’s base-hosting burden, and that he hopes to government will be ready to begin a working level task force meeting between Tokyo and Okinawa on spurring economic growth in the prefecture.

U.S. Ambassador John Roos has met this past week with the Prime Minister, and he briefed Kan on not only the U.S. position on the Futenma relocation, but on strengthening cooperation between Japan, South Korea and the United States. Roos’ meeting came as the Prime Minister was making plans for the upcoming Okinawa visit.

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