Okinawa officials push Tokyo on removing Marine air operations
GINOWAN, Okinawa — Okinawa officials are unleashing a full-court press on Tokyo to let the government know they don’t want Marine air operations to remain on the island.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and members of the Okinawa Assembly were in Tokyo this week visiting government offices to make sure their unanimous voice is being heard as the government reviews a 2006 agreement with the U.S. to close Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
Several alternatives to the present plan are being considered by a panel that is to submit its report to Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama by the end of the month. He has set a deadline of May for settling on a site with the United States.
The leading proposals are to build a smaller air facility on a portion of Camp Schwab away from the water, move the Marine air units to Kadena Air Base, or build a new air station on reclaimed land off the Navy’s White Beach port.
All are unacceptable to Okinawans, Nakaima told Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano on Wednesday.
“The purpose of building runways off the shore of Camp Schwab was to reduce the danger and impact to the local communities,” Nakaima said, according to a spokesman for Okinawa’s Futenma Relocation Task Force. “Yet, the idea of moving the air operations to the ground area of the base is in the reverse direction, which is incomprehensible to me.”
The spokesman said Hirano, who heads the review committee, told Nakaima that options for moving the Marines outside Okinawa were still on the table and the government would wrap up its study by the end of the month and would consult with him prior to an announcement.
Meanwhile, a nine-member delegation from the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly met with Minister of Defense Toshimi Kitazawa and delivered its unanimous resolution opposing any move of the Marines to a new base on Okinawa.
Yonekichi Shinzato, the head of the Social Democratic Party’s Okinawa chapter, told reporters it seemed Tokyo was leaning toward an Okinawa site.
“They have no idea how much the Okinawan people have suffered from the heavy burden of shouldering military bases since the end of World War II,” he said. “I hope the government fully understands the meaning of our resolution.”
Okinawa is host to almost half the U.S. troops in Japan and 75 percent of the land used for bases.
The Futenma controversy is threatening to unravel Hatoyama’s ruling coalition. None of the alternative sites are acceptable to all three coalition parties. The Social Democratic Party has threatened to leave the coalition if an Okinawa site is chosen and the People’s New Party has pledged to follow if the current plan under the 2006 realignment plan remains in effect.
Even Hatoyama’s majority Democratic Party of Japan is fractured, with party secretary general Ichiro Ozawa, often called the power behind the throne, expressing his dissatisfaction over proposals to relocate the base within Okinawa.
Ozawa told party officials earlier in the week that any plan to keep the Futenma operations on Okinawa would hurt them in this summer’s Upper House elections.
On the other side of the Pacific, the U.S. continues to contend that the current plan is the only option that meets its regional security requirements.