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Tokyo government lobbying gains few votes for any military change

Date Posted: 2005-12-15

The Foreign Minister and the Defense Agency chief are both on the front lines of Okinawa promoting the new US Forces realignment plan for Japan, but are finding their engagements chilly, at best.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso is village-hopping across Okinawa, drumming up support for the October interim report agreed to by both the US and Japan, but a document that’s finding little enthusiasm among local residents. He’s been joined by Fukushiro Nukaga, the Defense Agency director over the past week, meeting Okinawa leaders and ordinary citizens hoping to garner support for the measures, which include moving Futenma Marine Corps Air Station from Ginowan to a remote location at Camp Schwab on the far northern part of the island.

Okinawa’s Governor Keiichi Inamine remains a staunch opponent to the entire realignment plan, with exception of seeing Marines leave the island. He says “the Japanese-American security setup could be shaken unless Okinawa is level headed,” saying he stands opposed to the interim report. He’s told that direct to Aso during a brusque 20-minute weekend visit.

Nago Mayor Tateo Kishimoto lashed out at Aso during another visit, telling him the interim report process “totally ignores the citizens’ wishes.” Still, Kishimoto has agreed that the new airfield is essential to Okinawa’s future, and has been steadfast in opposing protesters who don’t want the new aviation facility in the northern neighborhood.

Another element to the mistrust between Okinawa and the central government hinges on discord between the Defense Facilities Administration Agency and the Defense Agency. DFAA has been in charge of the stalled Henoko airfield construction process which was to have solved the problems of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa nearly ten years ago. Now, that project appears dead and there are rumblings of bid-fixing and other shady project activities.

Officials last month disclosed that DFAA personnel were being questioned in connection with illicit big activities in connection with electrical work. Defense Agency leaders say the problem could severely impact relations between the central government and local leaders, particularly in connection with realignment plans.

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