Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Friday asked new U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty to heed the public’s concerns about hosting U.S. bases.
“Regarding the Osprey aircraft, I believe great care is taken in ensuring their safety, but various concerns are still voiced in Japan,” Onodera told Hagerty, who paid a courtesy call a day after taking up his post.
“I hope you will lend an ear to the voices of the local people, including on issues related to the U.S. forces in Japan,” the minister said. The start of the meeting was open to the media.
Hagerty, a businessman close to U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives at a time when the bilateral alliance is becoming more important in the face of North Korea’s provocative weapons tests, including a missile that flew over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean early last week.
Onodera said the “best way to resolve” the North Korean missile threat is through a “proper response” from Japan and the United States that will serve as a deterrent.
Hagerty added that the two allies are “100 percent aligned in our resolute opposition to the North Korean regime and their rogue activities” and that the North’s provocations have increased America’s responsibility to defend Japan to “the highest level.”
On issues related to U.S. forces in Japan, the ambassador vowed to work to “make certain that we are optimizing our presence here in Japan.”
Concern over the safety of the U.S. military’s tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey has been rising in line with its accidents and emergency landings within and outside Japan.
An Osprey crashed off Australia on Aug. 5, killing three U.S. Marines, while another made an emergency landing at a commercial airport in Oita Prefecture on Tuesday. Both are based at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.
The U.S. Marines said Friday the MV-22 at Oita Airport landed as the pilot identified an engine malfunction that required a swift landing. It is being repaired at the airport.
Ospreys take off and land like helicopters but can cruise like fixed-wing planes.
The transports have caused significant concerns in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, due to their noise and long record of accidents.
U.S. forces have deployed more than 20 MV-22s at the Futenma base.