NAHA, Okinawa Pref. – Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima may call for a rethink of the Japan-U.S. agreement on moving U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma when he runs for re-election, sources said Wednesday.
The call to reassess the contentious plan, which has bedeviled bilateral relations for over a decade, is expected to be one of Nakaima’s pledges for the Nov. 28 gubernatorial contest, the sources said.
This would signal a much sterner position on the Futenma issue. Until now, Nakaima has only criticized the central government’s policy changes on the issue and urged it to provide a full explanation.
Yukio Hatoyama promised last year, when he was prime minister, to remove the air base from Okinawa but ended up breaking the promise when he couldn’t find a place to put it. Tokyo and Washington then agreed in May to basically fall back to their original plan: keep Futenma within the prefecture but move it out of densely populated Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coast in Nago.
According to the sources, Nakaima has still to consult supporters on how he to put the call into writing because he is unsure if he should clearly state a “call for relocation outside of the prefecture” or “opposition to relocation within the prefecture.”
Being an incumbent, Nakaima thinks he bears responsibility for removing the danger the base poses to residents as soon as possible, which means the current plan should not be ruled out, the sources said.
The relocation issue is expected to be a key issue in the gubernatorial election, with Nakaima’s rival, Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha, already opposing the government’s plan.
Nakaima and his aides don’t think he can win re-election by simply demanding an explanation from the government, given strong local opposition to the May accord.
Nakaima suggested during a meeting with senior members of the Liberal Democratic Party’s prefectural chapter Wednesday that his election pledge is likely to respect the wishes of residents.
“If the government does not make clear a convincing solution, we will have to review the statement,” he said after the meeting, referring to the joint bilateral statement on Futenma released in May.
Nakaima plans to announce his re-election bid at a rally sponsored by his supporters Wednesday in Naha.
Land minister Seiji Maehara on Thursday said he supports a request by Okinawan leaders for a new permanent law intended to smooth the development of sites vacated by the U.S. military, officials said.
In a meeting at his ministry with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and mayors of nine municipalities in the prefecture that host U.S. bases, Maehara was quoted as saying: “We need some kind of new measure. We hope to come up with something good after hearing about the problems with the current laws.”
The minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, Maehara doubles as state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs. His remarks were made in reference to two related temporary laws set to expire at the end of March 2012.
Okinawa’s prefectural and municipal governments called for enactment of a permanent law to prepare for future land returns due to the planned expirations of the current special law on Okinawa’s economic development and another on the development of sites vacated by U.S. forces.
Specifically, the local leaders asked the central government to create a system to conduct an environmental survey of U.S. bases to help restore them to their original state as well as to take the lead in promoting the establishment of businesses in vacated areas, the officials said.
Nakaima told reporters after the meeting with Maehara that the use of sites to be vacated by U.S. forces is a major task in promoting Okinawa’s economic development, adding he hopes the central government will improve and expand the legal framework to achieve this goal.
Among the mayors who accompanied Nakaima were Takeshi Onaga of Okinawa’s capital, Naha, and Yoichi Iha of Ginowan, which hosts U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Japan and the United States have agreed to relocate the Futenma base from densely populated Ginowan to a less populated coastal area in Nago, also in Okinawa.
Later Thursday, the Okinawa governor and mayors met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku and Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Yukio Edano to issue similar requests.
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