Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama faces a high hurdle in finding a substitute site for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa. His statements so far have helped create high expectations among Okinawans that the Futenma function will be moved outside their prefecture.
On the other hand, the United States insists that Japan implement a 2006 U.S.-Japan agreement to move the Futenma function to Camp Schwab in Nago in the northern part of the island. The agreement calls for building two 1,800-meter runways in a V-shape sitting on part of the camp’s land and on reclaimed land in adjacent waters. The problem is that it is unlikely that the Hatoyama administration can find a location that will satisfy both Okinawans and the U.S.
During the Lower House election campaign last August, Mr. Hatoyama said he would try to find a substitute site for Futenma outside Okinawa. His mistake is that he did not begin a full-fledged effort to fulfill that pledge immediately after his administration was inaugurated in September.
Amid expectations that the function of Futenma will be moved outside Okinawa Prefecture, Nago residents, in the Jan. 24 mayoral election, chose a candidate who opposes the 2006 U.S.-Japan agreement. And, on Feb. 24, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly unanimously adopted a written opinion that calls for an early closure of Futenma and relocation of its function outside Okinawa (within Japan or abroad).
Mr. Hatoyama has said he will decide on the Futenma issue by the end of May. Two strong candidate sites have emerged, but both are inside the prefecture. One plan calls for moving the Futenma function to the land area of Camp Schwab; the other calls for moving the function of Futenma as well as those of the Self-Defense Forces’ Naha Air Base and Naha Port to reclaimed land off the U.S. White Beach Naval Facility in the central part of the island. But there is no evidence that the administration has tried to consult with local governments about these plans. Such a unilateral approach will only deepen local people’s distrust of the administration.
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