Japan, U.S. lock horns over report on Futenma repairs

Kyodo

The United States is demanding that major repair work planned at the Futenma air base in Okinawa be included in an interim report due by the end of April, sources close to bilateral ties said Saturday.

However, Tokyo so far has resisted the request, arguing such a move would risk creating the impression that the controversial base — whose planned relocation has been stalled for years by local opposition — may remain indefinitely at its current location in Ginowan, the sources said.

Senior U.S officials made the demand during a bilateral meeting with their Foreign and Defense ministry counterparts last Monday and Tuesday in Washington, where they discussed the realignment of American forces in Japan, according to the sources.

The Japanese officials postponed a decision on the issue, and requested the repair work be treated separately from the overall realignment of U.S. forces, the sources said.

The two sides are expected to discuss the matter again in late March.

Okinawa residents and politicians have rejected a 2006 bilateral agreement to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from its current location in a crowded residential district in Ginowan to the coastal area of U.S. Camp Schwab in Nago, further north on Okinawa Island.

Instead, they have urged the central government to move the base outside the prefecture altogether.

Okinawans are certain to step up their opposition if the repairs are included in the upcoming report, fearing they would extend the facility’s longevity and increase the likelihood that it will remain in Ginowan.

But the U.S. government is expected to keep pushing Tokyo to include the repair work in the interim report so it can pitch to Congress its plans to continue using the Futenma base before its eventual relocation to the Henoko coastal district in Nago.

At the bilateral meeting, U.S. officials also demanded that Japan shoulder the costs of the repair work, the sources said.

According to a U.S. military source, the extensive repairs demanded by Washington likely would cost tens of billions of yen and take a considerably long time to complete.

In late February, Japan and the United States agreed that large-scale repair work at the Futenma base is necessary, during consultations between senior defense and foreign affairs officials in Tokyo.