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Japanese PM apologizes for defense official’s remarks

Date Posted: 2011-12-07

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and other senior government officials have been scrambling to apologize to Okinawans for the stunning derogatory comments made by the country’s Defense Bureau chief in Okinawa regarding the government plan to relocate Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.

Noda, who has continued his pledge to stand by an agreement between the U.S. and Japan on moving Futenma to northern Okinawa, called Okinawa Defense Bureau Chief Satoshi Tanaka’s remark “extremely inappropriate”. Tanaka had been speaking with reporters while drinking in an Okinawa bar, and when asked about the government’s failure to stipulate a date for submitting a key environmental report necessary before the Futenma relocation project would proceed, said ”before you rape someone, do you tell her you’re going to rape her?”

That was enough to get Tanaka fired, and the Noda government moving into full damage control mode. Noda apologized, saying “I once again offer my heartfelt apologies for the hurt this has caused the people of Okinawa.” Still, he indicated he intends on pressing ahead with the Futenma relocation, and says he’ll visit Okinawa “at an appropriate time”.

Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, meanwhile, has told visiting Vice Defense Minister Kimito Nakae that the people of Okinawa had been hurt by the gaffe.
Nakae visited the Okinawa prefectural government office and told Nakaima that the remark by Satoshi Tanaka, director-general of the ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau, over the planned relocation of a key U.S. base in Okinawa was totally inappropriate.
Nakae said he offers a sincere apology for hurting the people of Okinawa.

Governor Nakaima said the remark was extremely regrettable and that it is very difficult to recover trust between Okinawa and the central government, emphasizing his opposition to the planned transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma air station in Ginowan within this southernmost Japan prefecture. Nakae told Nakaima that the ministry hopes to make heartfelt efforts for progress on pending issues in Okinawa including the Futenma base transfer, stating the ministry aims to submit the environment assessment report to the governor by the end of this year as a step to move the Futenma base to the Henoko coastal area in Nago. He said the ministry will continue its efforts to win Okinawa's support for the planned relocation.

The prefectural government initially planned a 15-minute meeting between Nakaima and Nakae, but it lasted only around six minutes. Nakaima said he wants to convey only one thing: recovering trust is not easy, and ended the talks.

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