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Prefecture Assembly rejects Futenma move

Date Posted: 2008-07-25

In its first demonstration of power as the new majority, opposition legislators in the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly have pushed through a non-binding resolution calling for an end to plans to build a new U.S. airfield in Northern Okinawa.

Okinawa’s governor, who has supported the plan to relocate Futenma Marine Corps Air Station from Ginowan to a new site on Camp Schwab in the Henoko district of Nago City, shrugged off the Assembly vote. Hirokazu Nakaima says “It’s very regrettable that I have yet to win the understanding of local legislators,” saying he’ll continue to push for the relocation, along with modifications to the V-shape runway location he’s long advocated.

The opposition parties took control of the Assembly in June elections, handing Nakaima’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party a strong defeat on the back of issues including the economy, health care and composition of U.S. bases on Okinawa. Opponents of the plan to create the new airbase with its runway extended into Oura Bay cited environmental concerns, as well as objections to expanding the American presence on the island.

Calls for closing Futenma, which sits in the heart of densely populated Ginowan City, have increased in recent years, reinforcing the LDP and central government leadership to press hard for concluding a 1996 agreement that would move it. That agreement also links closing Camp Kinser and part of Camp Foster, and ties to a more recent plan to relocate 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa once the new airfield is built.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary says relocating Futenma will “reduce the burden on Okinawa residents as much as possible.” Nobutaka Machimura adds “we expect local assembly members to understand this point,” but opponents charge the new airfield at Camp Henoko “will impose and fix an excessive burden” on the northern part of Okinawa.

In Nago City, where mayor Yoishikazu Shimabukuro has already agreed to the new airfield in his city, opinions are mixed. Shimabukuro says “I know Prefecture Assembly members made their decision, but it’s their opinion. I have no comment.” Northern Okinawa residents say the Futenma move is good for the local economy, and say “why not accept the air station with our conditions, then promote Henoko and Nago by accepting the subsidy money.”

Opponents say they “feel strange, because we know the Japanese government and America are not going to give up their decision because of the Assembly members’ decision. It will be more problems.” One Henoko resident added “this problem has been made to destroy the relationship of local people because I know there are a lot of people who agree to have the base here.”

The Okinawa Communist Party is adamantly opposed to any plan to move Futenma. “We must not let the government build a new American base on Okinawa,” a party member says, pointing out that “America is trying to invade the overseas countries and it’s becoming a permanent target to keep them. We never want them to build here.”

The Japanese government contends the airfield relocation plan is safe, and has asked opposition party members in the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly if they “have any provision to protect the Futenma Air Station if it should close and return the property to land owners, affording them a safe life.” Governor Nakaima, while sorry about the Assembly vote, says “we still have to remove the danger from the Futenma Air Station quickly, and I still say it’s very safe to transfer Futenma to the Henoko area. That’s the best location.”

U.S. officials have said little about the Assembly vote, but political scientists say there’s little doubt the Futenma relocation project plans will continue without change. If anything, they say, the rift will force the governor to move more closely to the central government position in supporting the project ‘as is’.

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