Tokyo asked to bear Futenma repair costs

U.S. wants ¥20 billion to fix air base but Japan fears public backlash

Kyodo

The United States is asking Japan to shoulder about ¥20 billion over an eight-year period for major repairs to Futenma air base in Okinawa Prefecture, sources said Thursday.

The government is reluctant, saying it would give the impression that the base, whose planned relocation within Okinawa has been stalled by strong local opposition for over a decade, may indeed stay there for the indefinite future, the sources said.

U.S. officials have reportedly said that extensive repairs to the entire base, including the aging runway and hangars, are indispensable for maintaining adequate safety. The repair work will be taken up during talks Friday in Tokyo on the reorganization of U.S. forces in Japan.

Under the eight-year plan, which would start this fiscal year, more than 50 items would be subject to repairs, including vital runway work that has been scheduled for fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019, the sources said.

They said the United States presented a list of expenses to Japan for the envisioned repair work during high-level talks in February, and stipulated repairs for barracks and the main gate as part of fiscal 2012 expenses. “It is undoubtedly on the agenda of Japan-U.S. negotiations, but we have not reached a conclusion,” Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka said in the Diet on Thursday.

Tanaka repeated that the administration will not allow Futenma to stay where it is and said he intends to keep repair costs to the minimum necessary.

Tokyo and Washington have agreed to transfer the base, which is in a crowded residential district in Ginowan, to a coastal area in Nago that is less populated.

The United States has been demanding that the repairs at Futenma be reflected in an interim report on the reorganization to be compiled by the end of this month, but Japan is reluctant to do so for fear it would appear to have given up on the relocation plan, the sources said.

Since 1996, when Japan and the United States agreed to relocate the base within the prefecture, the government has contributed ¥1.6 billion for repairs, holding it to the minimum necessary for essential safety measures.

Japan did not pay costs for major facilities at the base on the grounds that doing so would contradict the relocation plan, while fearing that such repairs would extend the base’s usability and promote its chances of remaining at its present location.