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Okinawa’s anti-base protesters are still counting on Hatoyama

Date Posted: 2009-11-19

Okinawa residents opposed to relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station from Ginowan City to Henoko in northern Okinawa are still holding out hope that Japan’s Prime Minister will stay true to last summer’s election campaign promises to rid Okinawa of American bases.

Anti-base protesters, joined by Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers who made their way to power in last August’s ousting of Liberal Democratic Party politicians, say they still expect Yukio Hatoyama to ultimately step forward and make decisions in line with his promises to close American bases such as Futenma and move American troops out of Okinawa. Denny Tamaki, a newly elected DPJ lower house representative, says he hopes the “checkbook politics” of the former LDP leadership will be eliminated, and “human rights violations” committed by American service personnel will be ended.

“We face an epoch-making chance to transform Japan’s subservient relationship with the U.S. into a more equal one,” Tamaki says, noting “many Okinawans object to the current plan to relocate Futenma within the Prefecture. The 50-year-old Tamaki, whose father was a member of the U.S. military, notes stimulus measures totaling ¥9 trillion yen have been offered to Okinawa in exchange for hosting American forces since the 1972 reversion. Tamaki, who says the profits from those stimulus projects have gone mostly to mainland businesses and contractors, is urging Hatoyama to be “a tough negotiator.”

Robert Gates, the U.S. Defense Secretary, last month warned Japan that unless Futenma is moved to Camp Schwab as scheduled, the deal to move 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam as part of a 2006 U.S.-Japan Agreement could be scuttled. Tamaki says that won’t happen and wouldn’t cause any problems. “What we want is to turn everything back to zero and to restart negotiations from scratch.” He said “political compromises can spawn great ideas”.

One idea being floated by Tamaki as a replacement location for Futenma is to use regional airports in sparsely populated areas. He says they’d be ideal, because the demand for air service at those locations is low, and noise and safety would not be problems.

A Nago City Assembly member, Takuma Higashionna, has sued the U.S. Government over plans to make Henoko the location for Futenma’s replacement. He’s argued the plan for building V-shape runways into Oura Bay would endanger the dugong. “U.S. President Barack Obama has been named winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and Japan is set to host a major U.N. conference on preserving biodiversity next year,” says Higashionna. “Destroying the environment for the Futenma relocation would hamper” ambitions to be conservation front runners, and would draw criticism from the international community. The 48-year-old assemblyman says he believes Obama can “feel other people’s pain”, and adds he expects Obama to “give up on the existing Futenma plan.”

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