DPJ’s allies oppose White Beach option

Kyodo News

Representatives of the two junior partners in the Democratic Party of Japan-led coalition asked the government Wednesday to rule out a plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa to an area to be filled in near the main island.

The delegates, including Tomoko Abe, the policy chief of the Social Democratic Party, and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) Diet affairs chief Mikio Shimoji, made the request to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano during a meeting at the prime minister’s office.

The government is seeking an alternative to the current plan of relocating the Futenma base from Ginowan to a coastal area of U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, also in Okinawa. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has pledged to settle the matter by the end of May.

“We told him that both parties are opposed to this plan,” Shimoji told reporters, saying Kokumin Shinto opposes the reclamation option on the grounds it would perpetuate the base’s presence.

The SDP’s Kantoku Teruya, who represents a district in Okinawa, told Hirano the landfill would destroy the marine environment at the proposed site, and showed him a picture of coral reef there, according to participants.

Hirano told them that while negotiations with the United States are “very difficult,” the government will make a decision recognizing the need to remove the dangers posed by the Futenma base as soon as possible, according to Shimoji.

Abe and Shimoji agreed Tuesday to also oppose a possible alternative of moving the Futenma base to an area off the U.S. military’s White Beach facility in Uruma, located on the Katsuren Peninsula on eastern Okinawa Island, on the grounds that it would not lighten the burden on local residents.

Tokyo has sounded out Washington on a two-pronged plan to move a helicopter unit from Futenma on a provisional basis to an inland part of Camp Schwab and ultimately to either an area that would be reclaimed off the peninsula or to Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Hatoyama said Tuesday his administration was unlikely to meet a self-imposed end-of-March deadline to draw up a single proposal that would serve as a basis for talks with the United States.

On the delay, Hirano told a news conference Wednesday that Hatoyama has already decided on a policy direction. But because Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada is on a visit to Canada and the United States, Hirano said, Hatoyama probably intends to finalize a government proposal upon Okada’s return Friday.

There are strong local calls for moving Futenma out of Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in the country. But the United States has urged Japan to stick to the original relocation plan, calling it the best option.