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Japan ignores alternative plans from U.S. senators

Date Posted: 2011-05-19

The central government in Tokyo says there’s to be no change in Japan’s policy on fulfilling a May 2010 agreement to move Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to northern Okinawa, saying it intends to “steadily implement” the relocation as planned.

The announcement by the Chief Cabinet Secretary seemingly tossed aside recommendations made more than a week ago by three powerful U.S. senators, two of whom visited Okinawa last month. Yukio Edano made the announcement in the wake of a joint statement made by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the ranking minority member of the committee, and Sen. James Webb, D-Virginia, a former U.S. Secretary of the Navy, that the Futenma relocation to Nago City’s Henoko district and Camp Schwab should be abandoned as “totally unrealistic”.

The senators recommended relocating Futenma’s functions to nearby Kadena Air Base, a U.S. Air Force installation, with other assets going to Anderson Air Base in Guam or two mainland Japan locations. Levin and Webb in April spent nearly a week in Okinawa, including a visit with Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who told them he wanted Futenma out of Okinawa.

Japan’s Defense Minister didn’t reject the senators’ proposal outright, but noted their comments came not as the official voice of the U.S. Government. Toshimi Kitazawa said the senators have something to say, though, because they help determine how U.S. taxes are spent. “For us, we have to closely watch the views of the U.S. government, which as received the proposal,” Kitazawa said.

Levin called the target completion date for the replacement air facility of 2014 as “totally unrealistic. Political realities in Okinawa and Guam, as well as the enormous financial burden imposed on Japan by the devastation resulting from the disastrous earthquake and tsunami must also be considered.” Webb, chairman of the Senate Committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was once a Marine serving on Okinawa, and he contends “the present compromise reached between the U.S. and Japan calls for the construction of a partially offshore replacement to the far north of Okinawa, and both the U.S. and Japan seem determined to pursue this option although it is rife with difficulties.”

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