U.S. advised to hang on to Yokota base

The Associated Press

Regional security threats make the return of a U.S. military air base in western Tokyo to Japanese control still too risky, a private American research institute said in a study presented Wednesday to the Defense Agency.

But the U.S. military should gradually share the airport at Yokota Air Base with Japanese forces and commercial airlines, the Washington-based Hudson Institute said.

Return of the airport to Japan “only begins to take on an aura of possibility . . . (after) resolution of the tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in the Taiwan Straits,” the conservative institute said in its report.

Tensions have simmered between North and South Korea since the 1950-1953 Korean War. North Korea and the United States also have been locked in a standoff over the communist country’s nuclear ambitions.

Meanwhile, China has threatened to use force against Taiwan if it declares formal independence. The two sides split in 1949 amid civil war.

The U.S. military’s exclusive use of Yokota Air Base, located just west of Tokyo, has long been a contentious issue in Japan.

Local residents complain about noise from the jets, while commercial airlines chafe at not being able to use prime airspace and landing facilities so close to the congested capital.

Outspoken Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has repeatedly called for the base to be returned to Japan or made available for joint use as a commercial airport.

“The most practical arrangement at Yokota may be joint use between the U.S. Air Force and (the) Self-Defense Forces,” says the report, which was presented to the Defense Agency and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

Such an arrangement would allow more efficient use of the airport, while also helping the two countries’ air forces better integrate their activities, it says.