Okinawa leaders travel to U.S. to lobby for base closures
February 3, 2005
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Two Okinawa members of Japan’s Diet traveled to the United States this week to lobby for immediately closing Futenma Marine Corps Air Station and canceling plans to replace it with a new airport near the northern fishing village of Henoko.
They also want the U.S. Marine Corps to leave Okinawa.
Just before they left, Mitsuko Tomon, member of the House of Representatives, and Keiko Itokazu, member of the House of Councilors, told Japanese reporters they would “convey the voices of people of Okinawa at this crucial time of realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.”
It is their second lobbying trip to the United States, said Chosei Taira, secretary-general of the Okinawa chapter of the Social Democratic Party, Tomon’s party. Itokazu is an independent but closely associated with the Social Democrats.
“Last February, they demanded solutions to various military-related issues, such as revising the status of forces agreement,” Taira said. But this year’s agenda, the party official said, will be influenced by recent developments such as the August crash of a Marine helicopter in an urban area, the re-election of President Bush and the start of full-scale bilateral military realignment talks.
Accordingly, the party leader said, the two lawmakers will focus on the immediate closure of Futenma MCAS, immediate cancellation of the Henoko airport construction and withdrawal of Marines from Okinawa.
A spokesman for Marines on Okinawa said the service welcomes “the free exchange of opinions about U.S. forces on Okinawa.”
“The U.S. forces are here on Okinawa at the request of the Japanese government in accordance with the Mutual Security Treaty,” said Capt. Joseph Plenzler of the Consolidated Public Affairs Office. “It is important to understand that Marine Corps Air Station Futenma also serves as a United Nations rear command staging base.”
Plenzler says the Marine Corps supports relocating Marine air operations to an alternate site away from populated areas and “is waiting for the government of Japan to construct an alternate facility that meets our operational requirements.”
Taira said the two Diet members would be joined by five members of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly. During their five-day trip, they are to meet with various U.S. government officials.
“We believe that it is important for us to directly convey voices of Okinawa to U.S. government officials and lawmakers at this time, when two governments are about to enter into full-scale talks on the military realignment,” Taira said. “Especially since we understand that August 15 is the deadline for the Overseas Basing Commission to send their report” to President Bush.
He said the extended deployment of Okinawa Marines to other countries, whether for the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq occupation or humanitarian relief efforts in South Asia, shows they are not needed on Okinawa — and “we don’t want them to come back to Okinawa.”
Taira added that when U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Okinawa, “he mentioned that he would not send troops to places where they are not welcomed.”
“Well, the Okinawan people do not want to host military bases,” he said. “Polls show that only six percent of people of Okinawa want to have a new airport at Henoko. These are the issues the delegates will discuss during their trip.”
He said he rejects arguments that base and realignment issues are matters only for the two national governments. “There is a gap between Tokyo and Okinawa,” he said, and Tokyo “does not necessarily speak for Okinawa.”
“That’s why we feel it’s important to directly appeal to the U.S. government.”