In his debate in the Diet on Wednesday with Liberal Democratic Party leader Sadakazu Tanigaki and Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama reiterated that there will be no change to his self-imposed May 31 deadline to resolve the issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma on Okinawa Island. His statement before the opposition leaders came only one day after the mayors of three towns on Tokunoshima Island in Kogoshima Prefecture, a possible relocation site, turned down a government request for them to meet with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano over the government’s relocation idea.
Mr. Yamaguchi pointed out that the lack of prospects for resolution of the Futenma issue has prevented the Japanese government from tackling other pressing issues. Mr. Tanigaki criticized Mr. Hatoyama, saying that his tardiness in resolving the Futenma issue may result in the base not being returned to Japan in 2014, as Washington and Tokyo agreed in 2006.
Without specifically mentioning the 2014 handover, Mr. Hatoyama said that priority should be placed on removing dangers posed by the Futenma facility to local residents. It has been reported that the government is considering moving most functions of Futenma’s helicopter unit to Tokunoshima. Mr. Hatoyama hinted that Tokunoshima is still a strong candidate site. He said moving U.S. Marines to a distant location is “not necessarily appropriate.”
The Hatoyama administration has been extremely poor at communicating with and obtaining the understanding of local residents who may be affected by a relocation plan. Mr. Hatoyama and concerned Cabinet ministers should stop dithering and work out a definite, feasible plan as soon as possible. As part of this process, the government should adeptly engage in behind-the-scenes consensus building with local residents and officials before announcing a final decision, to ensure the chosen plan can be smoothly implemented.
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