CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japan’s new defense and foreign affairs ministers are reluctant to support any changes to plans to move Marine air operations on Okinawa from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab.
In news conferences after Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda introduced his new Cabinet in Tokyo over the weekend, Minister of Defense Yoshimasa Hayashi and Foreign Affairs Minister Masahiko Kumura both said it would be difficult to make any changes to plans for V-shaped runways for the lower part of Camp Schwab and extending into Oura Bay.
Their answers were in response to requests by Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and other community leaders to move the runways farther offshore for safety and environmental reasons.
The two officials did not address a nonbinding resolution passed by the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly in July to scrap the plan altogether. Nakaima is a member of the country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Opposition parties recently won control of the prefectural assembly.
Replacing MCAS Futenma with a facility on Camp Schwab is part of a broader plan to realign U.S. forces in Japan and eventually move some 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam.
"I am from the constituency which has [MCAS] Iwakuni," Hayashi told reporters, according to a transcript of the news conference. "I believe I know how local people feel about the burden of hosting military bases, especially for Futenma. We must commit ourselves to reduce the burden on people of Okinawa."
However, Hayashi said the "present plan was agreed between Japanese and U.S. governments after giving consideration to various factors, including safety and impact of noise."
He said the Futenma Relocation Council has met eight times since the plan was approved by the U.S. and Japanese governments and that a "working team" has been set up with representatives of the prefecture and local governments to "further study and work out the details."
"Because the bilateral agreement was made upon comprehensive review, it is obvious that it is not easy to change it without a good, rational reason," Kumura said. "[However,] it might not be impossible as it is a promise between human beings.
"What I have consistently said is that it would not be possible to persuade the other party without grounds that I believe is justifiable and rational," he added. "As long as we have no such rational grounds, the present plan will remain unchanged."
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.