Okinawa pitches Futenma ‘dispersal’

SDF bases, airports from Kyushu to Hokkaido proposed as relocation sites instead of Henoko

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Okinawa contacted the office of the U.S. secretary of defense earlier this week with proposals to relocate the contingent at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to other parts of Japan outside the prefecture, saying there are 35 commercial airports and military facilities, from Kyushu to Hokkaido, that could serve as candidate sites.

In a letter and 27-page PowerPoint presentation sent to Mark Lippert, recently appointed chief of staff to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the Okinawa government says it’s making the proposals to avoid a disaster, in reference to the strong local opposition to replacing the Futenma base with a planned new airstrip on the Henoko coast of Nago.

The letter was written by Yukie Yoshikawa, a fellow at the Regional Security Division, Executive Office of the Governor, Okinawa Prefecture, on behalf of Susumu Matayoshi, head of the Executive Office.

“I fear there is a very good reason to believe the U.S.-Japan alliance is the Titanic simply headed toward an iceberg, and I believe our warning must be heard at the top level before it’s too late.

“As you know, the Futenma issue has been a long-standing problem for both the United States and Japan. (Okinawa) sincerely wants to see it solved in a reasonable and sustainable way, for all parties, including the locals,” the letter reads, calling for a meeting in Washington between Matayoshi and Lippert to discuss the proposals.

Okinawa has been researching possible alternative sites, and came up with a plan based, it said, on open sources in the U.S., including a U.S. Navy report that described the operational requirements of the same types of aircraft stationed at Futenma, including the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transports and fixed-wing aircraft.

Taking into account issues ranging from the number of residents around the facilities to runway lengths, the availability of essential utilities, and accommodations for the marines and new construction needs, Okinawa said it found 35 possible relocation sites outside the prefecture.

The proposals suggest particular attention be given to Self-Defense Forces bases in Kyushu and northern Japan as candidate relocation sites, noting stationing the marines on SDF bases would enhance interoperability.

“Kyushu has airports and (SDF) bases closer to the Taiwan Strait and the Korean Peninsula than Henoko, and relocating there would make strategic sense. The marines would be better prepared for a Korean Peninsula contingency if located in northern Japan, which shares a similar climate,” the PowerPoint proposal reads.

Okinawa suggests the marines at Futenma, which is in the city of Ginowan, could be “dispersed” to several locations throughout Japan. Or instead of moving the marines in one stage, such as the current plan to relocate them and their aircraft to Henoko farther north on Okinawa Island, a temporary relocation site could be arranged, while a final site was prepared.

“Relocation at multiple stages would allow quick removal of danger (while) giving enough time to prepare for (construction of) the final relocation site(s),” the Okinawan government said.

The proposals lack logistical details, like what arrangements would be made for the dependants who live with the marines.

In March, Tokyo applied for Nakaima’s permission to begin work to fill in offshore areas at Henoko to accommodate the runways at the planned new airstrip. Although a local fisheries co-op gave its OK for the project, all 41 local governments in Okinawa, the prefectural assembly and the Okinawa chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party voiced opposition to the current Henoko plan, placing Nakaima in a bind.

“If Gov. Nakaima were to authorize the petition, he would instantly lose his political say, creating political chaos, with many small groups but no significant leaders to represent the local voice, which means both (the governments of) Japan and the U.S. would lose their counterpart in Okinawa,” Yoshikawa told Lippert.

“There are also people who are willing to lie down at the construction site in front of a bulldozer. Then, (Japan) has two options: either stop there and simply wait for . . . a U.S. military aircraft (to crash at Futenma), or start construction despite casualties,” she wrote.

“If (Nakaima) were to deny the (reclamation) petition, the government of Japan would either appeal to the courts, or pass a bill to allow the prime minister to authorize the land-fill on his behalf, (something that probably depends) on the results of the Upper House election in late July. If construction is decided, you will get the same results as above,” she said.

In a phone interview with The Japan Times, Yoshikawa said Okinawa had not yet heard from anyone in Washington about the proposals, but noted Hagel will probably reply through Tokyo.

U.S. officials say the Okinawa proposals to disperse the marines to either commercial airports or SDF bases is unworkable for political and logistical reasons. In the late 1990s, the U.S. looked into relocating the Futenma operations to mainland SDF bases, but noted while there were many logistical pluses, there were high legal and political hurdles.

  • RMMStaInes

    Yukie Yoshikawa and Susumu Matayoshi are pundits and mavens who believes that moving the bases out of Okinawa will benefit everyone. Okinawa will be the sole looser if their wish will ever happen. Tourism in Okinawa is also getting a boost because of these American Bases too, just depending on the hotels and resorts are already part of the tour package. Issues and controversies of these bases are additional excitement and attractions to those people who visit the island. In reality the Local government, activists, and politicians are just using these bases as a leverage whenever there is a financial budget issues. For all the silent majority know’s, these so called few “Hantai” and most of them are receiving their pensions already don’t have concrete plans and Financial budgets to develop Okinawa. Regional sentiments shouldn’t be prioritized before the national security, for if not to these US Military Bases China have already occupied the Senkaku.

  • Starviking

    And the Okinawan government forgets that Futenma needs to be near “the action”, which for the US is South East Asia.

  • John Davis

    Many people in mainland Japan are very poorly informed about the situation in Okinawa. It is widely believed that Okinawan economy will suffer when the US bases disappear. This is not so. Currently US bases provide Okinawa with just 5 percent of its income. Tourism provides the largest part. In fact, two areas, Shintoshin and Hamby Town make 15 percent and 20 percent more income than they did before they were handed back to Okinawa recently.

    In fact the presence of US bases hinder Okinawan tourism greatly. The bases for the most part occupy prime land that would be perfect for development. The very presence of such a huge military force (50,000 people plus dependents) creates danger. The planes, especially the Ospreys are extremely noisy and if, in the unlikely event of an act of foreign aggression, Okinawa would be the first place to hit.

    Futenma airbase is located in the middle of an overcrowded city. The planes are so noisy that schools have to have double glazing so that the students can hear the teachers.

    And to top this, social crimes by drunken US servicemen continue to happen.

    I don’t know exactly how many Okinawans want the US bases off this island, but, given the attendance at anti-base events and the fact that ALL elected representatives are against the bases, I would estimate that the percentage is in the majority.

    I wonder why the Japanese government doesn’t hold a referendum to find out exactly what the Okinawans think about the bases. But then, they probably wouldn’t do this, because they know what the outcome would be.

    • Desk Pilot

      There are many errors in your statements, to include the number of people on Okinawa. The 50,000 Americans INCLUDES the dependents. There are only around 50,000 military in all of Japan total, and they don’t all live on Okinawa. I also wonder if you looked at the number of social crimes committed by the Okinawans. Look at the stats. What is played out in the media on the state of crime and who’s committing it is a far different picture from reality. That’s not an excuse for the idiots who have done stupid acts. One is one too many. But it is not nearly as rampant or bleak as the picture that is painted.

  • Osaka_Doug

    I did not know much about the Okinawa movement other that what I read in the newspapers, but after reading the new book ” Resistant Islands: Okinawa Confronts Japan and the United States” things are very clear. We need to finally listen to the people in Okinawa. There is a way to give Okinawa back to the people who live there and not treat Okinawa as a US state…..that’s all the people in Okinawa wish for. Who are we to ignore their dreams and requests. The proposal is worth looking seriously at in my opinion.

    • John Davis

      Osaka_Doug,

      That is an excellent book. Anyone living in Japan or connected with this country really should read it. This data has been blocked and not allowed to filter through to the general Japanese public.

      • Osaka_Doug

        Thanks John………A Japanese version 沖縄の<怒> by Satoko Norimatsu was also just released this spring so hopefully more people in this country will understand the situation better.

  • http://bfanwo.blogspot.com Loopy

    “I fear there is a very good reason to believe the
    U.S.-Japan alliance is the Titanic simply headed toward an iceberg, and I believe our warning must be heard at the top level before it’s too late,” said Yukie Yoshikawa.

    My response:

    I agree with the first part of the analogy, though I personally believe the Titanic is now only a couple of hundred yards away from the iceberg, everyone who is watching knows the Titanic will crash, and the only thing left is to wait for it to happen.

    There is no possibility of moving Futenma to another location in Japan. We can’t move Futenma to another site in Japan for the same reasons we can’t move Futenma to another site within Okinawa. There is no one willing to host the base and neither Japan nor America want to pay for building it.

    It still amazes me that Japan and America haven’t simply closed the base and not replaced it.

    The death of the alliance will be a good lesson for the rest of the world. Perhaps people will learn that jerking the people around, ignoring their wishing for over 15 years is not a sustainable policy. I personally believe that the Futenma fiasco will literally result in the downfall of the West.

    Just remember, you heard it hear first.