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GOJ ranks split on Futenma relocation

Date Posted: 2009-10-08

The Defense Minister has one opinion on what must be done with Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, while the Foreign Minister, Chief Cabinet Secretary and Land and Infrastructure Minister each has a differing point of view.

“We don’t have much time, so we’ve decided to frequently exchange opinions on the issue,” says Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, who visited Okinawa only days ago. He was referring to an informal meeting he held with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofuni Hirano, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Seiji Maehara, the government’s leader in Okinawa, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister as well as being in charge of Okinawa, during which the four discovered they weren’t in sync on whether to relocate the base outside Okinawa, or to honor the U.S. ~ Japan agreement to keep the controversial base in Okinawa.

Maehara predicts a government plan to review the proposed relocation of Futenma from Ginowan City to a more isolated spot in northern Okinawa will go forward. “I doubt whether the relocation will go ahead as planned,” he says, “and there’s a need to consider looking for a new location.” Maehara, noting “Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defense Minister Kitazawa are talking with the U.S., and I’m waiting for the outcome of those talks,” says the process of moving Futenma has dragged on too long.

“It has taken too much time for it to be returned,” emphasizing “we need to create a framework to make the relocation take place.” The initial agreement to move Futenma was inked in 1996, followed by another agreement in 2006. “If a serious accident occurs there (Futenma), it could cause not only trouble to local residents, but affect the bilateral alliance set by the security treaty.” A Marine Corps heavy lift helicopter crashed onto the Okinawa International University campus in August 2004, killing nobody but injuring a Marine crewman.

A day after the four Japanese cabinet ministers had their discussions, Okinawa’s governor weighed in with Maehara, telling him relocating Futenma outside Okinawa was the “best” solution, but adding “it is not easy from a practical viewpoint. Hirokazu Nakaima told Maehara the new administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama needs to move the process forward quickly.

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