Realignment of U.S. troops in Japan hitting political roadblocks
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The plan to realign U.S. troops in Japan is bogged down by opposition from almost half of the affected prefectures and municipalities.
According to the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, of the 55 local governments affected by the bilateral pact signed May 1, 21 still oppose the plan. And the national government said that it’s reluctant to proceed minus unanimous approval.
Municipalities on Okinawa are split, according to a DFAA list.
Having signed on are Nago and Higashi, next to Camp Schwab; Kin and Onna, which host Camp Hansen; and Urasoe, which hosts Camp Kinser.
Other Okinawa cities affected — Kadena, Chatan, Okinawa City and Ginowan — remain unconvinced, according to DFAA. Okinawa’s prefectural government is listed as still opposed to the plan.
The November gubernatorial election to replace Keiichi Inamine, who opposes the realignment proposal, will focus on the U.S. military issue.
The majority Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito bloc is backing Hirokazu Nakaima, 67, who sees the realignment as a good opportunity to develop base property in southern Okinawa.
Opposing him is independent Keiko Itokazu, 58, who is the equivalent of a senator in the Diet, Japan’s national legislature. Itokazu, who is backed by a group of opposition parties, said she opposes any move of Marine air operations within Okinawa. “I will not let a new base be built,” she announced Tuesday.
The realignment plan calls for building a Marine Corps air facility on Camp Schwab on the Henoko peninsula in Nago. It would replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the middle of urban Ginowan. The plan also calls for transferring 8,000 Marines and their dependents to Guam, then shutting camps Kinser and Lester, MCAS Futenma and part of Camp Foster.
But Iwao Kitahara, DFAA director general, said the Japanese government would like every affected prefectural and local government to agree to the realignment plan before proceeding.
Of the 12 prefectures and 43 municipalities affected, five of the prefectures and 16 localities remain opposed, he said.
“Our stance is that until we obtain the understanding from all 55 governments, implementation of the realignment will not be possible,” he said at a news conference in Tokyo. “We will continue to devote all our efforts to obtaining the understanding of all the municipal governments.”
He admitted it’s an uphill task.
“The remaining 21 communities have their own long history, backgrounds and situations that keep them opposed to the change,” he said. “We feel that there are still some things we need to accomplish by answering their questions and giving thorough explanations.”
He did not elaborate.
Iwakuni also remains a stumbling block.
Under the so-called “Roadmap for Realignment,” Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni is to be the new home for Navy carrier air wing squadrons from Naval Air Facility Atsugi.
Iwakuni Mayor Katsusuke Ihara said he remains opposed to the move even though the Yamaguchi prefectural government has approved the plan.