Monday, May 24, 2010

Japan Unveils Base Move Within Okinawa

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on 23 May unveiled for the first time his government's plan to relocate a US Marine base within Okinawa and apologized for his failure to make good on his earlier vow to move the military facility outside the prefecture.

He said the relocation within the prefecture was a ''heartbreaking'' decision to achieve the return of land occupied by the US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station to locals and extended his ''heartfelt apology for causing much confusion'' among Okinawans in the process of reaching that conclusion.

Lack of Leadership
Public support for Hatoyama's government has nosedived due to his perceived lack of leadership on Futenma and other issues, making ruling coalition parties jittery ahead of a House of Councillors election expected in July.Nakaima expressed his ''extreme regret'' over the government's decision and said he considers it ''extremely difficult'' to go ahead with the plan, because expectations had mounted among local residents that Hatoyama would try to transfer functions of Futenma out of the southwesternmost prefecture.''
The gap between people's expectations (and the latest government decision) is huge. I expect the premier to take time to offer further explanations and work out a solution that would satisfy us,'' the governor told Hatoyama.Nakaima also told reporters later he feels the premier has ''betrayed'' Okinawa residents.

In the meeting, Hatoyama also said he will ask other Japanese prefectures at a meeting of governors on 20 May to accept some of the U.S. military drills currently conducted in Okinawa.

The prime minister said the government has given up on the plan to transfer Futenma's heliport functions out of Okinawa due to ''remaining uncertainties in East Asia,'' especially on the Korean Peninsula.'' As a prime minister, I have to say we cannot allow the situation in which deterrence provided by the US forces in Japan will diminish,'' he said.

Aim of Japan-US Accord
Hatoyama later told reporters the government will try to continue negotiations with the United States to implement measures to ease base-hosting burdens on Okinawa beyond his self-imposed deadline of May 31 for settling the issue.

Japan and the United States broadly agreed on 22 May on a fresh accord expected to be announced on 21 May, which effectively states the Futenma facility in the populous city of Ginowan will be moved to land to be created through filling in the sea near the Marines' Camp Schwab at Cape Henoko in Nago, sources close to the matter said.

The fresh agreement is effectively on par with an existing relocation plan under a 2006 Japan-US accord aimed at transferring the Futenma functions within Okinawa, while relocating around 8,000 Marines to Guam from there, both by 2014. Nakaima told of his displeasure at the government's attitude in offering explanations to Okinawa after reaching a framework agreement with Washington.

Facing Strong Backlash
Approximately 1,000 local protesters staged a rally outside of the prefectural government office, calling on Hatoyama to abandon the plan to relocate the base within the prefecture. Many of them held up a card bearing a Chinese character for ''anger.'' During his one-day trip, the prime minister also met with Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine and 11 other local municipality heads in Nago and faced a strong backlash from the mayor, who was elected in January on his opposition to the Futenma relocation plan.
Okinawa hosts about 75 percent of the land area used for the US military facilities in Japan and half of the roughly 50,000 US service personnel in the country.The premier repeated his apology before leaving Okinawa in the evening, telling reporters that he ''sincerely regrets'' his failure to meet growing expectations for the base removal among Okinawans.

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