Hatoyama plans return to Okinawa

by Jun Hongo

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is planning to go back to Okinawa Prefecture around May 23 and formally propose his plan for the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, government sources said Tuesday.

At a news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano gave no exact date for Hatoyama’s planned visit but acknowledged the prime minister’s intention to visit Okinawa sometime in May.

“I believe it is the prime minister’s intention to hopefully visit” Okinawa by the end of the month, Hirano said.

While it appears unlikely an agreement will be reached by Hatoyama’s self-imposed May 31 deadline, Japan and the United States are scheduled to hold working-level talks Wednesday in Washington to discuss a plan to move some of Futenma’s operations to Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa, as well as Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Hatoyama’s administration is then looking to hold a Cabinet meeting with other coalition partners as early as this week and finalize the government’s position before Hatoyama visits Okinawa.

“I expect a thorough exchange of opinions to secure Japan’s national interests under the circumstances in today’s Asia, as well as for the stability and peace of the world,” Hatoyama said Tuesday about the scheduled meeting in Washington.

But an agreement between Japan and the United States on the relocation won’t be enough to fully resolve the contentious issue.

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa effectively admitted the government has given up meeting the May 31 deadline.

“It can’t be helped that negotiations will go on after that,” Kitazawa told a separate news conference, although he said the government aims to establish “a big framework” for settling the matter by the end of this month.

The Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), both minor coalition partners of the Democratic Party of Japan, oppose Hatoyama’s plans.

The pacifist SDP is unyielding and insists on removing Futenma from the country, while Kokumin Shinto has expressed reservations about a proposed elevated runway on pilings in the sea off Camp Schwab.