GINOWAN, Okinawa — While Okinawans await Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s recommendation for an alternative location for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma units, Japanese government officials are acknowledging they face tough negotiations over whatever site is proposed.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano told reporters Wednesday that Hatoyama has decided on a relocation plan but is delaying an announcement until after Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada returns Friday from a Group of Eight foreign ministers summit in Canada.
During a 45-minute debate in Japan’s Upper House on Wednesday, Hatoyama acknowledged he had a relocation site in mind.
“I have my own plan, but this is not the time to unveil it,” Hatoyama said during the exchange with Sadakazu Tanigaki, the leader of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party.
“Nor should we have negotiations behind the scenes,” Hatoyama said, according to a video of the debate. “My plan is at least equal to and probably better [than] the existing plan. I have confidence that my plan will be effective.”
In Tokyo on Wednesday, Hirano told minority members of the ruling coalition that he expected tough negotiations with the U.S. over the Futenma relocation dispute, a theme repeated in Canada by Okada, according to Japanese media reports.
Japan’s 6-month-old center-left government has been reviewing a 2006 agreement with the U.S. to close Futenma and move air operations to a new air facility to be built on Camp Schwab and reclaimed land on Okinawa’s northeast shore.
Government officials have acknowledged that the 2006 plan is considered dead and that new sites are being considered. U.S. officials have said the 2006 plan is best but that they’re willing to consider alternatives — if Hatoyama can get the cooperation of the communities that would host the new sites.
But partners in Japan’s new government are unhappy with reports that the leading alternative plan includes building a large helipad on a land-based portion of Camp Schwab and moving some training to sites in mainland Japan while a new base is built on reclaimed land just off the U.S. Navy’s White Beach port in central Okinawa.
When leaders of the People’s New Party and the Social Democratic Party met with Hirano in Tokyo on Wednesday morning, they expressed opposition to any plan that included dumping landfill into Okinawa’s pristine coastal waters.
Mikio Shimoji, Diet affairs chief of the People’s New Party, told Hirano that both parties are against the plan, according to a party spokesman. Shimoji’s party is against any new base construction on Okinawa.
Shimoji said on his Twitter page Thursday that he’s received no details of the plan Hatoyama is considering.
Hatoyama has set the end of May as the deadline for agreeing to and finalizing a plan with the U.S.
“As the person who will be going through tough negotiations with the U.S. government, I do not have any thoughts about failing,” Hatoyama said during Wednesday’s debate.
Outside a shopping center in Ginowan, where Futenma is located, most city residents were reluctant to speak about the controversy Thursday.
A 37-year-old man who would just give his family name, Kohagura, said it was a difficult issue.
“We just want to know if the prime minister is really going to decide on something,” he said. “During the campaign, he said he’d move the base outside Okinawa. Now nothing has been decided, and we might have to wait until May.”
He said he was born and raised in the shadow of the air station.
“I went to elementary school just on the other side of the base fence line and saw a helicopter crash when I was a student,” he said. “Now my children attend the same school and have to deal with the noise and danger.”
Seishun Ganeko, 73, said he doesn’t think any alternative site will be selected.
“I don’t think anything will be decided,” he said. “The prime minister will even miss his May deadline. He shouldn’t have lied to us when he promised to move the base outside Okinawa.”