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Foreign Minister: Airport will be built as planned

Date Posted: 2007-01-12

Japan’s Foreign Minister has tossed cold water on hints the proposed Futenma replacement airfield design could be modified.

Only days after Japan’s Defense Agency chief suggested there was flexibility in the design for the airfield to be built at Camp Schwab on Okinawa’s north side, Taro Aso flatly put out the word there will be no changes. “It has been decided during the two-plus-two ministerial meeting,” he said of the agreement signed last May by leaders of Japan and the U.S., adding “We will implement it”.

Aso, together with then Defense Agency Director Fukushiro Nukaga signed the agreement on Japan’s side, with Donald Rumseld and Condoleeza Rice handling the approval from the American position. The bilateral agreement calls for the new airfield, with two V-shape 1,800 meters long runways, would be built at Camp Schwab and over waters at Ouro Bay adjacent to the Marine Base. It would replace Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, now situated in heavily populated Ginowan City in central Okinawa.

\The Defense Agency chief, Fumio Kyuma, has been sending conciliatory tones toward Okinawa new Governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, indicating there was room for flexibility and negotiation on how the new airport could be redesigned and constructed. Kyuma told reporters in Bangkok he was flexible on the final plan, adding “A plan that can secure agreement from all Okinawa Prefecture parties, the City of Nago, and the U.S. would be good, regardless of what it is.” Nago City has already agreed to the new plan, with assurances flight patterns would not be over local residential areas.

Okinawa’s policy on airports construction involving land reclamation requires Nakaima, who took office only weeks ago, to agree to the Henoko airport plan. Landfill would be created on either side of the Henoko Peninsula just east of the Camp Schwab Marine Base to accommodate the runways. Nakaima, who argued against the airfield design throughout the gubernatorial campaign, was seemingly pleased with Kyuma’s flexibility assurances, and had responded with his own suggestions the Prefecture could be flexible and come to an agreement soon.

The Defense Agency chief was suggesting he could live with a design modification to a single runway. “It would be good if the new airfield had only one runway,” Kyuma told reporters, “because the V-shape design requires a big budget and one runway would cost less.” He pointed out Japan’s financially strapped government and economy, and “the lower the costs, the better it is for Japan.”

Even before the Foreign Minister publicly rebuked suggestions of new negotiations, the government had been downplaying Kyuma’s remarks with assurances the Japanese government would live up to its agreements with the U.S. The Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, told reporters in Tokyo the government perspective on Kyuma’s remarks are that “he was stressing the importance of an agreement among the Japanese and U.S. governments, as well as the local officials to get an implementation.

The issue is a headache for Kyuma as he prepares his agency to become a full fledged Japanese ministry.

The Defense Facilities Administration Agency, which has been involved with the Futenma-Henoko project, will be abolished September 1st and its functions absorbed within the new Defense Ministry. Kyuma says he’ll create a deputy minister position to coordinate U.S. troop realignment projects.

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