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Prime Minister promises to listen to Okinawa

Date Posted: 2009-03-12

Prime Minister Taro Aso has visited Okinawa, making a weekend goodwill visit and promising to “analyze all problems, listen to the Okinawan peoples’ voices, and take them into consideration.”

Having done that, Japan’s Prime Minister left many people scratching their heads wondering exactly what he accomplished during his visit. He came and did the obligatory things ramping up for the election campaign, giving speeches and talking with the LDP Okinawa Ladies Union, the Prefecture Doctors Association and the Okinawa Prefecture Construction Workers Association. He offered flowers to spirits of the deceased at Okinawa Memorial Park in Itoman.

What he did not do was honor the Liberal Democratic Party’s Okinawa Chapter request he visit Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Nago City and Camp Schwab, hubs of the controversy over building a new U.S. military airfield. Aso had initially agreed to visit the U.S. military bases, and had them on his itinerary, but cancelled them at the last minute after his office and the Okinawa LDP Chapter couldn’t agree on details of the proposed visit.

Prime Minister Aso met with Okinawa’s governor, though, and told him he was working toward an “early solution” to the mired plan for shifting Marine aviation from Futenma in Ginowan City to the northern waters off Camp Schwab. Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who has repeatedly asked Japan and the U.S. to modify its airfield plans to be “a little more offshore”, says he didn’t get the answers he wanted. Nakaima wants the two V-shape, 1,600-meter runways to be moved about 80 meters further into the Oura Bay. Both governments have said they’re not budging on the existing approved plan.

Aso said during the visit the important issue is to get local opinions on the force realignment process, listening to the people and getting their thoughts. Asahi, a mainland Japanese newspaper, has quoted a source close to the governor as complaining “we have base problems but the Prime Minister didn’t visit the bases, and he didn’t explain the Guam International Agreement either.” That source questioned what Aso’s purpose was in making the trip.

He did take notes of Nakaima’s request for support on reducing noise that’s raised ire of communities surrounding Kadena Air Base. Nakaima also pressed Aso on help for building a new runway at Naha International Airport, and for funding of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, which is slated to open in less than three years.

The Prime Minister, following up on an agreement to provide millions of yen to dispose of unexploded World War II ordnance, visited sites where munitions that exploded recently caused damage and injuries. He visited the family of one man injured when a World War II bomb exploded during construction excavation work in Itoman City.

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