An interim report released last week on realigning U.S. military forces in Japan apparently allows the two sides to alter their contentious plan to relocate the Futenma air station within Okinawa.
A bilateral statement adopted in February described the current plan to relocate the Futenma facility as the only viable option, whereas the interim report called it “the only viable solution that has been identified to date,” in theory allowing Tokyo and Washington to seek alternative relocation sites.
According to analysts, the wording was altered to win over certain key U.S. lawmakers who had proposed integrating Futenma with the Kadena air bases.
With the report creating scope for Japan and the U.S. to change the present relocation plans for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, calls may mount on the central government to review the existing plan to build a replacement facility in the Henoko district of Nago, farther north on Okinawa Island, analysts suggested. Fierce local opposition has stalled the move for years.
The vagueness of the new wording will probably also cause even more confusion over the Futenma base’s long-delayed relocation from the crowded area of Ginowan on Okinawa Island.
Tokyo and Washington also said in the interim report that the Futenma issue would be handled separately from the planned return of five U.S. military facilities and zones south of the Kadena base, also on the island.
The five areas will be gradually returned in three stages, according to the report, although much uncertainty persists because the specifics still have to be worked out at future meetings.