National

Japan plans to buy island slated as likely host for U.S. military training site by end of March

JIJI

The government is planning to buy a southwestern island, regarded as a candidate U.S. military training site, by the March end of the current fiscal year, government sources said Wednesday.

According to the sources, the government is expected to acquire the island of Mageshima in Kagoshima Prefecture for some ¥16 billion. The island is a candidate site for relocating field carrier landing practice (FCLP) operations for U.S. carrier-borne aircraft, which will be carried out as part of a realignment plan for the U.S. military in Japan.

A senior official at the Japanese Defense Ministry said that the government “will need to be able to offer an explanation on the purchase price during parliamentary deliberations.”

With a total area of around 8 square kilometers, the uninhabited island is located some 12 kilometers west of the island of Tanegashima.

In 2011, the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed to consider moving to Mageshima the site for FCLP operations from Iwoto, also known as Iwo Jima, a Pacific island belonging to Tokyo. The agreement is in line with a decision to transfer U.S. carrier-based aircraft from the Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Following the agreement the Japanese government started negotiations with the island’s owner, a Tokyo-based land developer. The discussions, however, ran into trouble as there was a tenfold difference between the price suggested by the government and the amount requested by the firm.

Once the government concludes a sales contract, the ministry plans to immediately start work on building facilities for the Self-Defense Forces on the island. The facilities will also be accessible to U.S. forces.

Tokyo has already set aside ¥596 million in expenditures related to the island, including those for environmental impact assessments, under the government’s draft budget for fiscal 2019.

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told a news conference on Tuesday that the facilities for FCLP operations “are needed as soon as possible.”

“We’ll continue to work steadily on preparing permanent facilities,” he added.