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Okada visits; presses for Kadena-Futenma solution

Date Posted: 2009-11-19

Japan Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada spent two days visiting Okinawa, studying plans for building a new Marine airfield to replace the controversial Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in downtown Ginowan City.

Japan’s Foreign Minister criss-crossed the island Monday and Tuesday on his first Okinawa visit, examining potential locations for a replacement airfield. When all was said and done, Okada told anxious news media “I can say that we are now reviewing every possibility, including the Kadena plan.” Okada first brought up the idea of consolidating Futenma with Kadena Air Base several months ago, putting himself at odds with his boss, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who’s said he won’t be making any immediate decisions about what to do with the Futenma relocation project.

Okada insisted it would be fast, inexpensive and relatively easy to combine the two bases, a position that put him at odds with local Okinawa leaders and the U.S. military. The Kadena consolidation concept had been considered more than a decade ago, and ruled to not be an operationally sound concept by the American military leadership. Today, the military reiterates its belief the two military services could not co-exist on Kadena. “Operationally unworkable” is the way Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, described the idea earlier this month, explaining how the operations could not be consolidated and do everything needed to provide security for Japan.

The mayor of Kadena Town, which wraps around the airbase, is even more adamant the Marines are not wanted at Kadena Air Base. Tokujitsu Miyagi has been steadfast through the years with the argument more aircraft and helicopters mean more noise, and more potential safety problems, for residents of his community. Earlier this month more than 2,000 protesters turned out to make their voices known they do not want Futenma relocated to Kadena.

“They aren’t working and struggling to find the best solutions about transferring Futenma,” Miyagi said of the Democratic Party of Japan political leaders scrambling to find an easy solution. “There’s nothing done about keeping the promises for our town,” Miyagi says, “the noise pollution has never been reduced and we will not agree to bring the Futenma Air Station to Kadena Air Base. Never ever.”

Okada visited Camp Schwab and the Nago City-Henoko areas, where the replacement airfield is planned. He examined the proposed land reclamation that would provide footing for a pair of V-shape runways extending into Oura Bay. He also visited Kadena and met with leaders of the local governments hosting the air base, the largest in East Asia. The foreign minister did not meet with U.S. military leaders, but did take time to talk with Nago City’s mayor, Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, and with Zenshin Takamine, Okinawa Prefecture Assembly Speaker.

After touring the island, Okada remained steadfast that a consolidation makes sense, since the base already exists and there would be no requirements for landfill. He said the noise problems can be addressed, and the consolidation could be made realistically. He says he’ll press the case with the Prime Minister and Defense Minister, making the case for a relatively smooth transformation and solution to the sticky problem.

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