GINOWAN, Okinawa — Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, seeking a way to save face after failing to come up with a plan to move Marine air units off Okinawa, will meet with prefectural governors May 27 in Tokyo to ask them to accept the transfer of some U.S. military training from Okinawa bases.
Hatoyama asked for the meeting when he met with Fukuoka Gov. Wataru Aso, chairman of the National Governors’ Association, on Thursday.
Moving some the training is part of a proposal Hatoyama is pushing to modify a 2006 agreement to close Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in Ginowan’s urban center, and move the Marine units to a new facility on Camp Schwab, along Okinawa’s rural northeast coast. Aso said he sympathizes with Hatoyama’s proposal.
“I believe it is our responsibility to think about the possibility of accepting some of the military training, since Okinawa has shouldered such a great amount of the burden alone,” Aso said last week, according to a spokesman.
It’s not a new concept. In 1996, all Marine Corps artillery training on Okinawa was moved to bases on the mainland.
Getting the U.S. to agree to Hatoyama’s plan and finding communities willing to host the Marines have been problematic for Hatoyama. During talks Wednesday in Washington, U.S. officials objected to his proposal to move some Marine air units to Tokunoshima, an island 125 miles northeast of Okinawa. The U.S. has maintained that air units need to be close to the ground forces on Okinawa.
It’s a credible argument, Aso said.
“When we consider the deterrence power of the Marine Corps and strategic requirements,” he said, “it is not viable to move the units too far away from the rest of the units, which inevitably brings us back to the original plan.”
Okinawa officials are united in their opposition to any relocation of the Marines on the island. Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima on Friday welcomed the chance to meet with other governors on the issue.
“It is significant that the excessive burden of Okinawa is now about to be discussed among governors across the country,” he said during a news conference at his office in Naha.
He said he has yet to see any details of Hatoyama’s plan.
During a news conference Thursday night in Tokyo, Hatoyama dodged questions about his plan and merely said he was pleased to be meeting the governors.
In his weekly e-mail magazine released Friday, Hatoyama said relocating Futenma is not just Okinawa’s problem.
“The issue of the military bases is one which the people of Japan must all think about for the sake of this country’s safety in light of the still unstable situation of the Northeast Asian region,” he wrote. “I would like to seek everyone’s understanding on this and kindle the people’s willingness to share the burden.”