Officials of prefectures hosting U.S. bases urge Tokyo to reconsider realignment
TOKYO — Governors and representatives of prefectures hosting U.S. bases agreed Thursday to urge the Japanese government to reflect local communities’ wishes when drafting a final report on realigning U.S. forces in Japan.
The preliminary realignment plan, announced two weeks ago, has sparked several protests in areas near U.S. bases.
The governors and prefectural representatives held the emergency evening meeting to discuss the preliminary, interim report, which recommended changes including moving an Army headquarters unit from the States to Camp Zama, moving part of the aircraft carrier air wing now at Naval Air Facility Atsugi to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and replacing Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in urban Okinawa with a smaller facility at Camp Schwab instead of a planned offshore facility on that island.
The apparent speed of the planned realignment makes it “necessary for us to make an emergency appeal,” said Shigefumi Matsuzawa, Kanagawa prefecture governor and chairman of the group that met Thursday.
The group approved a draft of a letter that was to have been handed Friday to Japan’s foreign minister, Defense Agency chief and Defense Facilities Administration Agency director.
Those at the meeting criticized what they termed the Japanese government’s failure to keep a promise to discuss realignment plans with local communities in advance. “It is truly regrettable that no explanation was made to the concerned communities until the interim report was announced,” the letter stated.
The letter urged Japan’s government to explain details of the negotiations with the U.S. government to finalize the report. The governors also called for revising the U.S.-Japan status of forces agreement, which has not been changed substantially for 45 years.
“We urge it to be revised in a short period of time, such as within two or three years, by setting a firm deadline,” the letter stated, “and for it to be included in the final report involving the realignment of the U.S. forces.”
Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials said they had no comment on the letter because the ministry has not received it. However, ministry SOFA division official Naoki Kumagai, asked about seeking revisions to the pact, said the “Japanese government’s position is to respond to various issues by improving the administration of the status of forces agreement.”
USFJ officials declined to discuss the governors’ actions Thursday, saying that they do not comment on internal Japanese affairs.