Japanese officials deny Futenma closure rumors
NAHA, Okinawa — Japan defense officials were quick Friday to squash rumors that the United States was going to give up Futenma Marine Corps Air Station without a replacement facility.
At a press conference in Tokyo, Defense Facilities Administration Agency officials denied Japanese news reports and said Japan would continue to work toward implementing the provisions of an agreement to close some U.S. bases on Okinawa and consolidate others.
The Mainichi Daily News stunned Okinawa on Friday with a report that U.S. officials dropped the condition that Futenma Marine Corps Air Station be closed only after an alternate facility is built elsewhere on the island. That would mean the new Marine air station planned for the waters off Okinawa’s northeast shore wouldn’t be needed, the paper reported, citing unnamed U.S. “diplomatic sources.” Marines from Futenma, the report continued, would be moved to Kadena Air Base as part of an ongoing effort to consolidate U.S. forces on the island.
“There is no substance to the report,” said Hatsuhisa Takashima, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ director-general for press and public relations. “We have no such information, and we have no idea why and how such a report came out.”
U.S. Forces Japan officials at Yokota Air Base, Japan, said they’ve made “no statement or proposals regarding an alternate Futenma replacement facility. We continue to work together with the government of Japan regarding Marine Corps Air Station Futenma as outlined in the Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee on Okinawa.”
Shigeru Ishiba, director of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, told reporters following a Cabinet meeting on Friday in Tokyo that he had no knowledge of such an offer from the U.S. government.
“When Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage visited Tokyo [on Feb. 3], I told him that government of Japan would continue its efforts to reduce [the] burden on Okinawa,” he said. “We will continue our efforts to reduce the burden that Okinawa shoulders by steadily implementing the agreement made by SACO.”
The bilateral Special Action Committee on Okinawa was formed in 1995 in the wake of a series of anti-base rallies supported by then-Gov. Masahide Ota and other prefectural officials. The SACO report, adopted the following year, outlined a plan to close some U.S. bases and consolidate others in a move that would reduce the amount of land used by the military by 20 percent. U.S. bases cover one-fifth of Okinawa.
A key to the plan was an agreement to close MCAS Futenma, located in the heart of urban Ginowan, if an alternate facility could be found for Marine air units elsewhere on Okinawa.
After years of negotiations, Japan settled on building a sea- based airport adjacent to Camp Schwab in Nago.
A Nago City military affairs office spokesman said Nago’s mayor, Tateo Kishimoto, would have welcomed the report, if true.
Kishimoto doesn’t want the facility in Nago, instead insisting it be built elsewhere.
And Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine dismissed the report.
“I will not jump up and down and react to each media report," Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine said Friday morning to reporters. “I am resolved to reduce the military presence on Okinawa. I will tenaciously continue to call for the reduction from the U.S. and Japanese governments.”
— Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.