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Prime Minister, Governor still far apart on Futenma

Date Posted: 2010-12-23

Japan’s Prime Minister pressed his case for continuing with plans to relocate Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to northern Okinawa despite Okinawan objections during a two-day visit to the island, telling the prefecture governor and local citizens “I understand people want it moved out of the prefecture or the country, but considering the current international situation and relocation options in terms of feasibility, the Henoko plan would sharply reduce the dangers posed by the Futenma base.”

Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized to Okinawans upon his arrival, explaining “I am very sorry we had to conclude the Japan-U.S. Agreement” that calls for relocating Futenma in northern Okinawa, instead of outside the prefecture as demanded by prefecture and municipal officials, politicians and citizens. Kan says his visit allowed him to “explain my thought accurately” on issues surrounding Futenma, currently located in Ginowan City. “Although there are many differences of opinion,” he says, “this visit has enabled me to discuss the issue from now on in a courteous way.”

Kan visited the Henoko area where the Marine Corps base is to be relocated, and also inspected Futenma for the first time. He also paid visits to Kadena Air Base, and U.S. installations that are slated to be returned to Japanese control once the airbase is relocated. The Prime Minister was on his second visit to Okinawa—the first was for Battle of Okinawa ceremonies last summer—and one that gave him a chance to meet with America’s top military commander, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, the Okinawa Area Coordinator.

Okinawa’s Governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, stood his ground during the visit, telling the Prime Minister the controversial base needs to be removed from Okinawa. He continued to demand the base be removed, and called for a review of the entire Japan-U.S. accord. As they spoke, hundreds of protesters gathered to noisily let Kan know he wasn’t welcome. Nakaima said after the meetings “I didn’t understand what he was saying. It is impossible to allow Futenma to stay in the Prefecture.

The Prime Minister tossed economic subsidies onto the table to soften the blow of having to maintain the Marine Corps airbase, telling the governor “I will prepare a reasonable size share” of tax revenues for Okinawa. He assured Nakaima the central government will treat Okinawa differently than the other 46 prefectures in providing untied grants, which—unlike subsidies—can be used as the governor chooses. He says grants to Okinawa will be larger than the standard amounts normally allocated based upon size, population and other characteristics. He told Nakaima Tokyo would provide Okinawa with at least ¥25 billion, and that his government would create a new law to replace the existing special legislation promoting Okinawa. That law is currently set to expire at the end of fiscal year 2011.

Kan’s visit comes on the heel of his Cabinet approving new national defense guidelines, which recognizes China’s military buildup as a concern for the region and the international community, as well as for the peace and safety of Japan. He told Okinawans “As a Japanese, I feel sorry, and as a politician I’m terribly ashamed” of letting Okinawa Prefecture bear the brunt of hosting American bases. Roughly 75% of the land used by the U.S. military in Japan is located in Okinawa.

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