Japan stymied on US base in Okinawa as deadline nears
Japan may try again to relocate the Futenma US base in Okinawa to the fishing village of Henoko, ahead of a May deadline to resolve the issue. But both antibase activists and the US have voiced objections to that plan.
Ginowan, Okinawa, Japan
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The fractured English does not weaken the sentiment, almost universally shared here, that the noisy and potentially dangerous base must be closed. The US and Japanese governments agree.
Where its operations might be moved to, however, is an awkward question that could weaken America’s 50-year-old security alliance with Japan.
For 14 years, Japanese governments have wrestled with the issue of where to base the Marine Corps’ helicopters. They have tried, and failed, to reconcile the US insistence that the aircraft be stationed near the troops they would transport with local opposition to any new or expanded US bases.
Mr. Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won office last August – unseating the Liberal Democratic Party in an election for the first time in more than half a century – partly on a campaign pledge to move Futenma operations off the southern island of Okinawa, and preferably out of Japan.
But as a May deadline for a decision approaches, the government is backing away from that promise and deciding that the small fishing village of Henoko, next to an existing US Marine base some 50 miles north of here, offers the best solution. That was the deal Washington and Tokyo reached in 1996, but it has been repeatedly blocked by antibase activists in Henoko.
“We don’t have many choices,” says one senior government official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It’s between the current plan [for a long runway in landfill in the bay] and a slightly revised plan,” he adds.
For US, a strategic choice
“We cannot separate the helicopters from the forces they are supporting,” says Lt. Gen. Keith Stalder, the top Marine Corps commander in the Pacific. “The helicopters have got to train with the marines they are supporting or they become unproficient.”
Okinawa’s location, Stalder adds, “is strategically very good.” A subtropical island closer to Taiwan than to Tokyo, its military bases mean “we can be a very credible presence and quickly get where we need to get.”