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Leaders meet, but are they listening to each other?

Date Posted: 2011-06-16

Japan’s Defense Minister and Okinawa’s Governor, the two men who presumably are best in a position to influence the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station relocation project to northern Okinawa, have discussed the proposal in Naha City, but as both talked long-staked-out positions, neither seemed to be hearing what the other was saying.

Toshimi Kitazawa formally advised Governor Hirokazu Nakaima that the Japanese government will continue with plans to move Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture, pursuant to the Japan-U.S. Agreement. Nakaima responded as he’s often done recently, calling the government plan “truly regrettable” and demanding the airfield relocation project be reconsidered.

Kitazawa told Nakaima the government will relocate the Futenma base in accordance with the May 2010 agreement that calls for establishing substitute facilities in the Henoko coastal district of Nago City, on the Marines’ Camp Schwab and in adjacent Oura Bay. The Defense Minister was briefing Nakaima ahead of the two-plus-two meetings coming up June 21st between defense and foreign ministers of Japan and the United states.

The government, Kitazawa said, intends to establish two runways, to be aligned in a V shape, as the new base is built to replace Futenma, now located in densely populated Ginowan City in central Okinawa. He told Nakaima that it will be difficult to complete the Futenma relocation in 2014, as the roadmap created in 2006 for U.S. military realignment in Japan stipulated, but says Tokyo and Washington now want to agree to finish the relocation as soon as possible.

Nakaima wasn’t convinced of anything by the meeting with Kitazawa. “Realistically, it is not that easy,” he told reporters. “I believe it will work, but only if it goes to another prefecture.” The governor said the Tokyo government is “sticking too much” to the unpopular plan for moving Futenma to Henoko. Nakaima called the move “a pipe dream”.

The governor’s tossed cold water on the entire plan for relocating forces within Japan, and moving troops off Okinawa, remaining adamant he’s opposed to having any relocations within the prefecture. Nakaima wasn’t content to limit his objections about the U.S. military on Okinawa to the Futenma move; he railed loudly over American plans to introduce the vertical takeoff and landing Osprey MV-22 to Okinawa. The U.S. plans to bring the new aircraft in next year to replace an aging helicopter.

Nakaima noted Futenma Marine Corps Air Station will be the site for the new aircraft, which he said has a history of crashes. He said “having been told they will be brought to a base in the middle of a city, I can’t say yes to that. Without data, I have no choice but to oppose it.” He said he wants information on the MV-22’s air safety and noise. Defense Minister Kitazawa promised he’ll provide the information requested. He urged Nakaima to be open minded and accept the deployment, pointing out there have been no fatal accidents since one in 2007, adding the plane’s safety has been technically proven.

Kitazawa noted that Futenma will remain and continue to be used if construction of a replacement airfield on Okinawa doesn’t move forward.

The foreign and defense ministers will be in Washington June 21st to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, when they’re expected to finalize the Futenma relocation plan, including the V-shape runways configuration.

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