Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said Friday he will again visit Kagoshima Prefecture to try to overcome strong local opposition to the government’s plans to partially relocate the operations of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Tokunoshima Island.
Saturday’s visit will be Hirano’s second of the week, following a meeting with Tokunoshima’s politicians Wednesday, when his pitch failed to win them over.
Local residents have gathered in their thousands to protest the government’s proposal, but Hirano said he will continue to seek a breakthrough.
“A visit by myself will better relay the thoughts of the government” rather than tasking others to talk with Tokunoshima residents, Hirano told a news conference.
“I’ve learned that there are some who want to know about the government plans. I am willing to visit them if that is the case,” he added.
So far, the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration has hinted at moving Futenma’s operations to U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa, as well as Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima. But reaching an agreement by the self-imposed May 31 deadline has become near impossible, with the plan being rejected by local governments, Washington and even the DPJ’s coalition partners.
Hirano did not reveal who he was to meet Saturday, but those attending reportedly will include a dozen local business representatives from the agricultural and fishery industries.
Meanwhile, Hirano denied reports that he indicated moving 500 of the 2,500 U.S. Marines based at the Futenma base to Tokunoshima during Wednesday’s meeting with local politicians. Such a plan cannot be divulged since specific details are still under negotiation between Tokyo and Washington, he said.
Hirano also denied drawing up a plan for the Self-Defense Forces in Kyushu to host U.S. forces’ training operations in rotation to alleviate the burden on Okinawa.
No to runway: NGOs
Environmental groups urged the government Friday to give up on its plan to build a pile-supported runway in a coastal area in Okinawa at the planned replacement site for a U.S. Marine base, saying such a structure would destroy the marine environment.
Members of the Japan-U.S. Citizens for Okinawa Network and 66 other organizations, including the WWF Japan and Greenpeace Japan, in a joint statement expressed strong opposition to the construction of a new military facility on the coastal zone in Nago, claiming the sea area is a “hot spot of biological diversity.”
The civic groups maintain that the area hosts “the largest seaweed bed around the main island of Okinawa,” as well as coral reefs, new shellfish species and the dugong, an endangered marine mammal.
They urged the government to ditch the runway plan, especially since Japan will be hosting a major U.N. conference on conserving biodiversity in Nagoya in October.
Japan and the United States agreed in 2006 to build two runways in a V-pattern on the Henoko coast of Camp Schwab in Nago by filling in shallows. But Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said that would harm the natural environment.
The government instead proposed building a pile-supported platform in the shallows as a replacement facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, government sources said.
The new plan is believed to reduce the impact on the marine environment compared with filling in the shallows with earth.
Members of the Japan-U.S. Citizens for Okinawa Network, however, said at a rally held at a Diet members’ building that constructing several thousand piles would wreak havoc on the seabed, and the elevated runway would prevent sunlight from reaching the seabed, resulting in the destruction of the seaweed and coral reefs.
They said a pile-supported runway would have as much detrimental impact on the marine environment as the existing Japan-U.S. plan.
Ryoichi Hattori, a House of Representatives member of the Social Democratic Party, part of the ruling bloc, also told the meeting the pile-supported runway would harm the natural environment, and he is against construction of a new base in Henoko.
Separately, some 550 Japanese and U.S. civic groups urged Hatoyama in a letter to cancel the plan to construct a base in Nago to protect “the dugong and Okinawa’s precious ocean habitat.”