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Henoko plan not going away as Futenma’s new home

Date Posted: 2012-05-04

The United States and Japan are in accord on three things this week: First, that 9,000 Marines will be leaving Okinawa, Second, that five U.S. military installations and facilities will be returned to Japanese control, and Third, that Henoko is “the only viable solution that has been identified to date” as a new home for the contentious Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.

Tokyo and Washington have finally made official the U.S. Forces Japan realignment arrangement that will move 9,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, Hawaii and Australia, leaving 10,000 other Marines on the prefecture’s main island. “The security situation is changing, and will not stop doing so,” says Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba. “I think we’ve reached a point where Japan and the U.S. need to properly share their responsibilities and realize them with speed. Otherwise,” he says, “we would not be able to adapt to the security changes.”

As part of the Marines’ move, Japan has confirmed it will pay up to $2.8 billion to cover moving costs. Tokyo says that money will cover maintenance costs for facilities outside Japan, including on Tinian and Pagan islands in the Northern Mariana Islands, where the two countries plan to conduct joint exercises. The total cost for moving the Marines, by the American estimate, will not exceed $8.6 billion. Some 4,000~5,000 Marines will go to Guam, while the other Marines will be part of a U.S. Marine Corps “rotational presence” in Hawaii and Australia.

Over three phases, five U.S. installations and facilities in southern Okinawa will be returned, beginning with Camp Foster’s West Futenma Housing area, known in Japanese as Zukeran, and parts of Camp Kinser, also called Makiminato.

The bilateral agreement opted to deal with the facilities and troop realignments first, separate from the contentious issue of moving Futenma out of Ginowan City. The exact time frame for the redeployment remains undetermined, with a joint statement saying only that “relocations are to be completed as soon as possible while ensuring operational capability throughout the process.” One known delaying factor is the requirement for new facilities to be constructed in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands to accommodate 4,000 Marines.

The Japanese government is staunchly defending its decision to continue with Henoko as the preferred site for a replacement airfield to replace Futenma. Verbiage in documents from the two governments, including the statement about Henoko being the “only viable solution that has been identified to date”, led to speculation other locations or options –such as joint Air Force – Marines use of Kadena Air base—might be being considered.

Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka flatly rejected that, saying his ministry doesn’t have “any places in mind” other than Henoko. Foreign Minister Genba left the door open ever so slightly by saying the government “has not ruled out considering other locations,” before turning around and telling reporters Japan has “already discussed every possible solution.”

By separating the Futenma relocation issue from the other elements, a senior U.S. State Department official says things will now move forward. “Previously, everything was a package, and until we had progress on constructing the Futenma replacement facility, we weren’t doing a lot of other things.” He added that “One of the key aspects of this agreement is that we’re separating the piece of constructing a replacement facility from the other aspects of the agreement because we’re acknowledging it’s taking more time than we anticipated.

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