Losing bases will hurt economy, Okinawa lawmaker warns
OKINAWA CITY — Be careful what you wish for.
That’s an Okinawa Prefectural Assembly member’s warning to opponents of U.S. military bases on Okinawa.
Tohru Odo said communities hosting U.S. bases that face closure under the realignment plan could face financial difficulties with the loss of base-related revenue.
Odo told Stars and Stripes that Japanese officials involved in the realignment talks have told him that realignment could result in the closure of the most visible bases on Okinawa — the Naha Military Port, Camp Kinser, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and most of camps Foster and Lester.
Odo, a member of the assembly’s special committee on military affairs, visited Tokyo last week with the committee’s chairman, Kosuke Gushi, for talks with Japan defense officials involved in the bilateral talks.
He said Takemasa Moriya, the Japan Self-Defense Agency’s vice minister, told them the government is seeking some dramatic changes in the U.S. force structure on Okinawa by moving most U.S. troops away from the heavily populated south and central parts of the island to the rural northeast.
“He told us that all military bases that are visible to the eyes of people of Okinawa (along Highway 58) would be moved,” Odo said. Moriya avoided naming specific installations, he said. But “I am certain that they are talking about the Naha Military Port, Camp Kinser, Camp Foster and Camp Lester,” Odo said.
An interim realignment report from top-level officials for both governments was expected this weekend. On Wednesday, U.S. and Japanese officials accepted a plan to relocate MCAS Futenma to a new airport to be built on Camp Schwab and Oura Wan Bay. The realignment talks have been grueling, with both sides compromising in order to reach a decision before President Bush visits Japan in mid-November.
The local communities are ill-prepared for the base closures, Odo said. Whatever form the realignment takes, it is sure to worry people he calls the “silent majority,” who benefit economically from the bases.
“In a way, closing the visible bases is the right move,” he said. “But, if such changes are coming, we should expect that the silent majority will begin to speak up. So far, they have remained silent.”
He said the prefectural government, which claims base-related income makes up about 5.2 percent of Okinawa’s revenue, “underestimates the economic effect of the military.”
In 2002 Okinawa reported base-related revenue of $1.79 billion — $462.82 million contributed to the local economy by SOFA personnel, $477.88 million in Japanese employee salaries and $769.02 million in land leases.