Okinawa leaders are adamant on moving Futenma
NAHA, Okinawa — Prefectural leaders, riled by news reports that Tokyo will keep Marine Corps air operations on Okinawa, said Friday they will organize an islandwide protest rally if the government follows through.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Thursday said the government will decide on a site for the relocation project by the end of March and then negotiate with U.S. and Okinawa officials on a final plan to be chosen by the end of May.
He formed a committee several months ago to study a 2006 agreement with the U.S. to close Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and move the air operations to a facility to be built on the lower part of Camp Schwab and reclaimed land in Oura Bay.
The committee is considering several alternate sites. The two leading plans, according to press accounts, involve building a large helipad or small runway on part of Camp Schwab away from the water or constructing a new air station on reclaimed land between the Navy’s White Beach port and nearby Tsuken Island.
Okinawa’s prefectural assembly wants none of them.
Even Okinawa members of Hatoyama’s own party are upset with the way things are going.
Yasunori Arakaki, an assembly member and director general of the Okinawa chapter of the Democratic Party of Japan, said the news from Tokyo was upsetting.
"During the campaign last year, all senior members of the DPJ promised the Okinawa people they’d move Futenma out of Okinawa," he told Stars and Stripes during the assembly’s lunch recess Friday. "What the DPJ is doing now is in no way acceptable to the people of Okinawa."
Yonekichi Shinzato, secretary of the Okinawa chapter of the Social Democratic Party, a minority member of the ruling coalition, said keeping the base on Okinawa was out of the question.
"During the election campaign last summer, the DPJ kept telling us Futenma must be moved outside Okinawa," he said. "Now, once in power, they seem to be taking it for granted the base must be placed somewhere on the island."
With no decision announced, no date or location for a protest has been set, but the assembly is looking at April if Hatoyama announces Marine air operations will stay on Okinawa.
Anti-base rallies are common on Okinawa, with attendance ranging from a few thousand to tens of thousands. Some 20,000 people attended a rally against the Futenma Relocation plan in Ginowan in November, and more than 25,000 participated in circling Kadena Air Base in July 2000 in protest of the G-8 Economic Summit.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, after speaking with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, told reporters in Tokyo on Friday he felt he was being "left out of the loop" in the relocation review.
"I myself believe there is no alternative but to move [the Marine air operations] out of Okinawa," Nakaima said. "If the government makes a decision to keep (Futenma) on Okinawa, there’ll be no choice for us but to be against it."