Island mayors rebuff Hatoyama

by Jun Hongo

The mayors of the three towns on Tokunoshima in Kagoshima Prefecture told Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Friday they want no part of his proposal to move some U.S. Marine elements from Futenma in Okinawa to their island.

“We understand the difficult circumstances (of the relocation issue), but there is no way we will allow any construction” of U.S. military facilities on Tokunoshima, Isen Mayor Akira Okubo said when the three local leaders met with Hatoyama in Tokyo.

The first part of the meeting was open to reporters.

“We were there to relay the public’s opinion to the (central) government. I don’t think there is any need for us to set another meeting with the prime minister,” Okubo later told reporters, with Amagi Mayor Kosuke Ohisa adding that further discussions would only end with the same conclusion.

The Democratic Party of Japan-led administration has been looking into the possibility of moving about 1,000 of the approximately 2,500 marines stationed at Futenma, and some of the drills conducted there, to Tokunoshima.

But with only three weeks until Hatoyama’s self-imposed deadline to settle the issue, the three mayors from Tokunoshima came to Tokyo to file their formal opposition.

The meeting was not the start of negotiations but an opportunity to show Hatoyama their opposition, the mayors said, handing the prime minister a petition signed by 26,000 people against relocating Futenma’s operations to Tokunoshima.

Hatoyama told the mayors that the military burden on Okinawa must be alleviated and that Futenma needs to be relocated relatively close to its current position to maintain regional security.

“It would be helpful if some aspects (of the base) can be shouldered” by Tokunoshima, Hatoyama said in asking for cooperation.

Hatoyama also proposed visiting Tokunoshima himself to exchange thoughts with local residents.

But despite recognizing the need to move Futenma out of Okinawa, Hideki Takaoka, mayor of the town of Tokunoshima, repeated that public opinion on the island is predominantly against hosting a U.S. base.

A visit by the prime minister wouldn’t help change that, the mayors said.

While there have been reports that Hatoyama has basically given up on transferring marines to Tokunoshima, the mayors were also unyielding on allowing any of Futenma’s operations to be conducted there.

Before the meeting, Hatoyama told reporters he was ready to “face the opportunity with a sincere mind.”

He began the meeting with an apology for causing confusion on the island but was unable to hide his distress over the mayors’ strong opposition. He didn’t go into specific details about his relocation proposal at the meeting, the mayors said.

Faced with the resistance in Tokunoshima, the government appears to be left only with moving Futenma’s operations to the coast of Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.

Criticism over this option — which is only a slightly modified version of the plan in the 2006 agreement between Tokyo and Washington — has already mounted, with Hatoyama coming under fire for backpedaling on his earlier pledges.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano denied reports that Hatoyama is scheduled to visit Okinawa on May 15 for negotiations, but he did say the prime minister is preparing for a trip to the prefecture to speak directly with local people and ask for cooperation.

During his first trip to Okinawa on Tuesday, Hatoyama told residents and politicians that moving all of Futenma’s functions out of the prefecture isn’t feasible and asked them to continue shouldering some of the military burden.