Toshimitsu Motegi, the new minister in charge of Okinawa and affairs related to the Northern Territories, says he will review what Japan can do to improve implementation of the accord that governs U.S. military activities in the country.

“The people of Okinawa Prefecture may wonder what the government means when it says it will ‘improve the implementation’ of the agreement,” said Motegi in a recent interview.

“I intend to consider seriously what and how much improvement (Japan) can make to wipe out Okinawa’s concerns,” said the 48-year-old Lower House member of the Liberal Democratic Party, who served as senior vice foreign minister until he was appointed to his new ministerial post last week.

Okinawa, which hosts a major portion of the U.S. forces in Japan, has called for revising the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement.

In light of a series of crimes committed by U.S. servicemen, the southernmost prefecture particularly wants American military personnel suspected of serious offenses to be handed over to Japanese investigation authorities before they are indicted.

The Japanese government is reluctant to revise SOFA, and has promised instead to deal with Okinawa’s complaints through talks with the U.S. to improve rules for implementing the accord.

However, current talks between the two countries have hit a snag over an American request that U.S. government officials be present during questioning of American servicemen by Japanese investigators.

Motegi said he plans to visit Okinawa later this week to meet with Gov. Keiichi Inamine and visit the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station, which Washington promised in a 1996 accord to return to Japan in exchange for a substitute facility elsewhere in Okinawa.

Inamine has demanded that the U.S. military’s use of a planned airfield off Nago to replace Futenma’s heliport functions be limited to 15 years.

Motegi said he will continue to relay Okinawa’s demand when he holds talks with U.S. government officials, although Washington maintains that a time limit on its use of the airfield is unacceptable.

The minister vowed to promote a plan to build a new institution in Okinawa in 2007 to provide graduate-level education as part of the national government’s efforts to assist the prefecture’s development.

He said such an institution will help attract students from other Asian countries, due to Okinawa’s location.

Motegi, who is also in charge of information technology, indicated reluctance toward the idea of drawing up further restrictions on the Internet despite a growing number of Net-related incidents, such as people getting together to take their own lives after becoming acquainted via Web sites on suicide.

He said he would rather promote education to prevent undesirable uses of the Internet, and utilize technology to prevent children from gaining access to indecent information. “I would not necessarily support imposing restrictions because there are negative aspects (to such actions),” Motegi said.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.