GINOWAN, Okinawa — After eight months of looking for an alternate plan for closing Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is finding himself back where he began.
Hatoyama will announce May 28 that he is sticking to a 2006 agreement that calls for moving the Marine air units from urban Ginowan to a new air facility to be built on Camp Schwab, along the island’s northeast coast, according to Japanese news reports.
If so, he will keep his promise to settle the issue by his self-imposed May 31 deadline — but at a personal political cost.
The reports are sure to further inflame Okinawans, where nearly every elected official opposes any plan to keep the Marine air units on the island and anti-base rallies have drawn demonstrators by the tens of thousands.
Hatoyama is scheduled to visit Okinawa on Sunday to explain his plan to local officials.
Hatoyama promised during last summer’s Lower House elections to seek to relocate Futenma outside the prefecture. But he has been unable to find an alternate plan acceptable to junior partners in his coalition, the United States and local communities that would host the Marines.
Hatoyama also has begun publicly acknowledging the need for Marine air and ground units to be located together to be able to respond quickly to regional contingencies. He did so again on Wednesday, citing growing tensions on the Korean peninsula in the wake of the March 26 sinking of a South Korean patrol boat that officials in Seoul said was the result of a North Korean torpedo attack.
“Considering situations like this in Asia, as well as for the peace of Japan, we are making our final efforts to reach a solution to (the Futenma) problem by the end of May,” Hatoyama said. “Naturally, meeting operational requirements of the U.S. military is a factor.”
U.S. Forces Japan had no immediate comment.
Hatoyama’s plan will closely follow the 2006 accord, which entails building an airstrip that straddles the Henoko Peninsula in the city of Nago, according to media reports. Besides support facilities built on land, two 1,800 meter runways are to be built in a V-shape stretching onto reclaimed land in Oura Bay.
He reportedly has abandoned an earlier idea to modify the configuration of the runways, hoping just one runway built on a pier structure would be more environmentally friendly and could win the support of Okinawans. U.S. officials were against building in pilings instead of landfill, claiming the structure would be more prone to terrorists and was not significantly friendlier to the environment.
There are also concerns any modifications to the 2006 plan should to be within the framework of an environmental assessment, in order to avoid any more delays. Completion of the assessment has been stalled due to Hatoyama’s review of the plan.
After failing to gain the backing of the Social Democratic Party, a junior member of the ruling coalition, Hatoyama is expected to issue a statement without the approval of his cabinet.
Mizuho Fukushima, SPJ leader and a member of the cabinet, said she would refuse to endorse a plan to keep the Marine air facility on Okinawa. She did not indicate if she would resign from the cabinet.
Hatoyama is expected to convey his plan to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she stops in Tokyo Friday for talks with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada. Representatives of the two countries will then start negotiations to draw up a final plan.