Okinawa governor lobbies against base plan in Tokyo
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Gov. Keiichi Inamine appeared to be talking into deaf ears this week during a lobbying trip to Tokyo to argue against building a new Marine Corps air station in northeast Okinawa.
According to Japanese news accounts, his visits Thursday to several ministries and ruling-party leaders produced the same message: The plan to realign U.S. troops in Japan is moving forward despite local opposition.
However, Tokyo officials did say they will set up a special council to discuss realignment details with Okinawa officials after the plan is completed, the news reports stated. That is expected to occur in Washington by April 2.
Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga told Inamine not to expect any changes in the plan.
“The director general’s basic stance remains unchanged,” a Defense Agency spokesman said Friday. “The government will go ahead with the Camp Schwab plan while continuing its effort to obtain understanding from local communities.”
He said Nukaga stressed how the realignment would benefit Okinawa by transferring some 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam and elsewhere in Japan, thus reducing the burden Okinawa bears for hosting more than half of the U.S. troops in Japan.
At another Tokyo meeting, according to Japanese news reports, Tsutomu Takebe, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s secretary general, promised that in return Okinawa would continue to receive economic assistance from the central government.
The current plan is to build the air station on Camp Schwab and reclaimed land in Oura Bay. Inamine had supported an earlier agreement that would have placed the air station some two miles offshore in the same general area.
According to the Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper, Inamine told the Tokyo officials he wanted a full explanation of how the plan for the new air station came about.
“We cannot easily just say, ‘All right’ to this new plan,” he was quoted as telling Nukaga. “It is not favorable for Tokyo and the local communities to confront each other. The original relocation plan was a result of our extensive efforts including a Cabinet decision in 1999, which endorsed the plan. We should therefore not lightly accept the revised plan.”
Inamine will get another opportunity to argue against the plan when Senior Vice Foreign Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda visits Okinawa Sunday.
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.