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Defense Minister remains opposed to Henoko airfield in principle

Date Posted: 2009-10-02

Japan’s new Defense Minister came to Okinawa for four days, visited both Camp Schwab and Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, and talked to local mayors and the governor.

What Toshimi Kitazawa did not do was change his mind about the need in principle for Futenma to be moved away from Okinawa. “The agreement between America and Japan was done 13 years ago and nothing has been done yet,” he said, “and it is very unreasonable, and the work has already started.” Speaking at the tail end of his September 25th ~ 28th visit, Kitazawa conceded “to look for a new place and new way will be so difficult, and takes too much time,” but said he’s ready to tell his new boss the new airfield agreement needs to be eventually scrapped, although in the short term there may not be any other realistic alternative to the current Henoko plan.

His boss, newly installed Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, is on record as opposing the Futenma relocation to Henoko, a position he reaffirmed while in the United States only days ago. Hatoyama says he’ll not change his “basic idea” of getting the air station moved out of Okinawa Prefecture, a position that is contrary to the 2006 agreement between Japan and the United States that stipulated Futenma would be moved from congested Ginowan City to Camp Schwab not later than 2014.

Kitazawa says he’ll be meeting soon with Hatoyama and Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada to share his experiences while in Okinawa, and convey to opinions of the governor and mayors whose communities are involved. He’s planning to recommend a new approach “as soon as possible.” The first minister in the new Japan government to visit Okinawa, Kitazawa heard from Nago City Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, who said the relocation should continue to the Henoko area because any plans for transferring the controversial airfield outside the prefecture would take too much time.

Shimabukuro said he concurred with the move, although admitting he’d like to see the two V-shape runways moved a bit further off shore. Henoko is in the Nago City jurisdiction. Three Hisabe-area ward chiefs told the Defense Minister they’d really “welcome the option of taking the air station outside of Okinawa,” but the Henoko chief also expressed concerns about next year’s budget freeze for the northern areas, telling Kitazawa “we need the money to promote the development of the city.”

Okinawa’s governor met the Defense Minister at the Prefecture Offices, where he said moving Futenma outside Okinawa “will not be so easy”. Hirokazu Nakaima said “it would be the best option to move the air station outside of Okinawa, and even outside of Japan, but when you look at past negotiations, that would not be so easy to accomplish.”

Ginowan City Mayor Yoichi Iha praised the new prime minister, saying “I believe our Prime Minister established a great relationship with the American president, and made big meaning of Japan. We need to take Futenma out of Okinawa, as the Prime Minister says.” Kitazawa listened to the Kadena Town mayor, who’s voicing concerns against any shift of Futenma aircraft to Kadena Air Base, assuring him he didn’t think proposals to integrate Futenma at Kadena Air Base would be good, because it would be “extremely difficult to impose an additional burden on Kadena Town, whose land is mostly used for the U.S. military base.”

Kitazawa also met with Chatan Town Mayor Masaharu Noguni, and Prefecture Assembly members. He promised to deliver an immediate message to Prime Minister Hatoyama on Okinawan peoples’ feelings, and then “discuss with him what is his real intention and opinion.”

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