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Hirokazu Nakaima, 67, a former vice governor and former chairman of the Okinawa Electric Power Company, says he wants the planned construction of a new Marine air facility on Camp Schwab to be reduced in size.

Hirokazu Nakaima, 67, a former vice governor and former chairman of the Okinawa Electric Power Company, says he wants the planned construction of a new Marine air facility on Camp Schwab to be reduced in size. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

Hirokazu Nakaima, 67, a former vice governor and former chairman of the Okinawa Electric Power Company, says he wants the planned construction of a new Marine air facility on Camp Schwab to be reduced in size.

Hirokazu Nakaima, 67, a former vice governor and former chairman of the Okinawa Electric Power Company, says he wants the planned construction of a new Marine air facility on Camp Schwab to be reduced in size. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

Keiko Itokazu, 59, a candidate for Okinawa governor supported by a number of opposition parties, opposes plans to replace MCAS Futenma with a new air facility on Camp Schwhab.

Keiko Itokazu, 59, a candidate for Okinawa governor supported by a number of opposition parties, opposes plans to replace MCAS Futenma with a new air facility on Camp Schwhab. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

NAHA, Okinawa — If the race for Okinawa’s next governor is any indication, there’s a bumpy road ahead for plans to build a new Marine Corps air facility on Camp Schwab.

Both major candidates running to replace Gov. Keiichi Inamine in the Nov. 19 election are opposed to the new airport, which U.S. officials have said is the key to realigning U.S. troops on Okinawa and transferring some 8,000 Marines to Guam.

“Military issues are the major campaign issues,” said political observer Masaaki Gabe, professor of International Relations at the University of the Ryukyus. “There is no other distinctive difference between the candidates.”

The leading candidate is Hirokazu Nakaima, 67, the former chairman of the Okinawa Electric Power Company and former vice governor. He is backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, New Komeito. He is running against Keiko Itokazu, 59, who is supported by a number of opposition parties, including the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.

Both say they have reservations concerning the Camp Schwab airport plan that was a feature of a bilateral agreement signed in May to realign U.S. forces in Japan.

The new airport would replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in the heart of urban Ginowan. The base has been marked for closure since another bilateral agreement was signed in 1996, but with the provision that a replacement facility must be built elsewhere on Okinawa.

Anti-base activists blocked an environmental survey of the waters off Henoko where a sea-based replacement airport had been planned. That prompted U.S. and Japanese officials to draw up new plans for the facility on Camp Schwab, which is to be built by 2014.

But Nakaima wants to close MCAS Futenma before that — within three years, said spokesman Mitushiro Chinen.

“Eight years is too long to wait while the danger (of Futenma) is an imminent concern for the local community,” Chinen said.

Two years ago a Marine helicopter crashed on the grounds of Okinawa International University, located next to the Marine base.

“Nakaima says he would support a new military facility on certain conditions,” Gabe said. “Meanwhile, Itokazu’s stance is clear. She opposes any new military facility. But it’s hard to figure out how she would carry out what she calls for.”

Gabe has said that the governor can do little to stop the project until it advances to the point of filling in part of Oura Bay for the Camp Schwab airport’s runways. The governor must approve filling in the bay. But by that time, he said, the national government could pass a law transferring that authority to itself.

Rejecting the Henoko plan is an important part of Itokazu’s platform, said her campaign chief Masaharu Kina. “Building an airport in such a quiet and peaceful environment will expose the surrounding community to aircraft noise pollution and a danger of accidents. It is obvious that (it) will be an enormous burden,” Kina said.

He said Itokazu, a member of Japan’s Upper House and a former Okinawa assembly member, would press the central government to review the realignment plan.

“The report, although it might be final between the Japanese and U.S. governments, it is yet to be settled here on Okinawa. We have not accepted it yet,” Kina said. “Itokazu will do everything she can to get the government to review this plan from scratch.”

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said the central government is closely monitoring the Okinawa campaign. It is important to have the support of the people of Okinawa for the Futenma replacement plan, he said.

But no matter who wins the election, little will change, Gabe predicts.

“Inamine already opposes the Camp Schwab project, yet an archeological survey has already begun,” he said. “A true confrontation between the central government and Okinawa governor won’t heat up until the project reaches the point of coastal reclamation.”

He said the election is drawing tepid attention from the voters.

“People know that they cannot expect much of a governor to solve problems that Okinawa is facing because most of these issues, including the military issues, are beyond the local level. The voters know that the governor’s discretion on these issues is limited.”


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