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Okinawa municipalities mixed over U.S. realignment plan

Date Posted: 2012-02-15

Heads of municipalities in Okinawa Prefecture, which hosts most U.S. military facilities in Japan, are showing mixed reactions to a bilateral basic policy on reviewing the current program for U.S. military realignment in Japan.

While each is expressing hopes that the review announced last week, and for which details are still trickling out from the Japanese and U.S. governments, will lead to some reduction in Okinawa's base-hosting burden, they are also worried that the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma air station may not be realized. Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima says that the review is expected to help scale down U.S. bases, a demand by the people of Okinawa. The governor promises ‘We will keep an eye on Japan-U.S. negotiations with great interest.’

At the same time, Nakaima says the planned relocation of the Futenma base from a congested area of Ginowan to a coastal area of Nago, is ‘effectively impossible’ since the plan is not supported by local people. He reiterated his call for the base's transfer outside Japan's southernmost prefecture. The basic policy calls for a transfer of U.S. Marines in Okinawa to Guam and the return to Japan of five U.S. military installations and land south of the U.S. Air Force's Kadena base in the prefecture ahead of the Futenma base relocation.

The current program based on a bilateral accord in 2006 puts the return of the facilities after the Futenma base relocation and the Marines' transfer to Guam. Takeshi Onaga, mayor of Naha City, the prefecture capital hosting a U.S. military port, welcomed the basic policy, saying, the people of Okinawa will open their hearts only when bases are returned. ‘It is a step forward that the basic policy refers to the matter,’ Onaga said.

Mitsuo Gima, mayor of the city of Urasoe, where a major U.S. military storage facility is located, told a press conference that using the returned site as a distribution depot will contribute greatly to the Okinawa economy.

In contrast, Ginowan Deputy Mayor Seiei Komesu urged the central government to work not to fix the Futenma air station at the current location. ‘The U.S. military realignment program was originally intended to get rid of the danger posed by the Futenma air station,’ Komesu said. ‘We want the central government to put the utmost priority on that.’ It is true that the revision to the program carries the risk of letting the Futenma base remain intact.

It is also questionable whether the ruling Democratic Party of Japan-led government is determined and able to make progress on the base's relocation. Nobuteru Ishihara, secretary-general of the major opposition Liberal Democratic Party, said in Tokyo that it is the DPJ-led government that ruined the Japan-U.S. accord, which the government of the LDP-led coalition struck. A former defense minister said Japan chose to accept a U.S. proposal to review the program to realize progress in the Marines' transfer to Guam, and the return of the facilities rather than staying unable to unlock the stalemate over the Futenma base.

A senior official of the Japanese Foreign Ministry said the review would help local people support the Futenma base's relocation to the Henoko coastal area of Nago.
The opposite is that it may sap U.S. enthusiasm for pursuing the relocation. If the Futenma base is fixed at the current place, the blame would be certainly on the DPJ government.

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