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Futenma relocation project unlikely to change

Date Posted: 2008-08-15

Talk of changes to the planned northern Okinawa airfield to replace Futenma Marine Corps Air Station continues to be a hot topic, but the latest rounds of talks with senior Japanese leaders suggest nothing will actually be altered.

A new military airfield at Camp Schwab in Henoko District, Nago City, is to be built with a pair of V-shape runways extending into Oura Bay, to replace the controversial Futenma by 2014. Okinawa Prefecture and community leaders, including the governor and Nago City mayor, want changes made in the runways location, pushing them further into the bay.

Opposition party leaders who now control the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly want the whole project scrubbed, and Futenma closed. The opposition wrested control of the Assembly from the Liberal Democratic Party in June, then passed a non-binding resolution calling for the American base to be shut down. Governor Hirokazu Nakaima disagrees with that resolution, insisting the airfield be built, albeit with some adjustments.

Japan’s newly appointed Defense and Foreign Affairs Ministers have quickly weighed in on the proposals, but leaving reporters convinced the two are already endorsing the agreement made more than a year ago by the U.S. and Japanese governments. Defense Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and foreign Affairs Minister Masahiko Kumura, appointed to their posts by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda only a week ago, say they support “reducing the burden on people of Okinawa” but tossed offered little, if any, support to the opposition.

“I come from the constituency which has (Marine Corps Air Station) Iwakuni,” said the new Defense Minister, “and I know how local people feel about the burden of hosting military bases, especially Futenma.” He added, though, that he believes “the present plan was agreed between the U.S. and Japanese governments after considering various factors, including safety and noise impact.” Kumura says “it is obvious that it (the agreement0 is not easy to change without a good, rational reason,” adding that “as long as we have no such rational grounds, the present plan will remain unchanged.”

Futenma’s relocation to Camp Schwab within six years is one of the key elements in a U.S. ~ Japan plan to move 8,000 Marines off Okinawa to Guam. A Futenma Relocation Council has met with the two governments eight times since the agreement was signed, but the prefecture and local governments say “further study is necessary to work out details.”

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