GINOWAN, Okinawa — While no communities on Okinawa and mainland Japan are willing to accept the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, lawmakers representing tiny Tinian Island are campaigning for it to be the new home of the controversial base.
The Senate of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands voted unanimously Friday to encourage U.S. and Japanese officials to consider Tinian the best location for the transfer of U.S. Marine air units from Okinawa, according to the Saipan Tribune.
Two-thirds of Tinian, one of the smallest of the 15 islands in the CNMI, is already leased by the Department of Defense. The Manhattan-sized island was a major launching point for B-29s bombing Japan during World War II.
The U.S. and Japan agreed back in 1996 to close Futenma, located in Ginowan’s urban center, but several plans to relocate the base to a more rural location were abandoned due to strong local opposition.
Japan’s new left-center government is looking for alternatives to the latest plan, a 2006 agreement to build a new air facility on the Henoko Peninsula and reclaimed land in the waters off northeast Okinawa, but alternate sites for the base have been hard to find.
For residents of the Northern Marianas, however, the Marines could be an economic boon.
“This involves infusion of dollars and Japanese yen to Tinian,” said CNMI Sen. Jude Hofschneider, who presented the bill to the senate, according to the Tribune. “We should be seeing money trickling in as early as 2014 if the relocation happens.”
The senator could not be reached for further comment Monday.
The idea is being pushed by Japan’s Social Democratic Party, a minority member of the three-party coalition that took power there last September. Tinian is just 80 miles north of Guam. The 28-square mile island has about 3,500 residents.
Meanwhile, more than 15,000 residents of Tokunoshima, an island some 125 miles north of Okinawa, turned out for a rally Sunday opposing any move to transfer the Marine air units there.
Although Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has not publicly disclosed any alternate sites being considered, the Japanese media, quoting unnamed government sources, are reporting that Tokunoshima, with a population of 26,000 people, is one of the leading prospects.
“A military base will destroy our beautiful nature and the harmony of our community,” a resolution passed by consensus of the crowd states.
According to Japanese media reports, also quoting unnamed sources, the U.S. has flatly turned down any consideration of Tokunoshima as a replacement for Futenma.