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[Editorial] Slowly but surely, ease Okinawa’s burden

Slow but steady efforts must be made to reduce the burden shouldered by residents of Okinawa Prefecture in hosting U.S. military bases there, a task that needs to be fulfilled to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in the prefecture.

On Tuesday, the national and prefectural governments held another round of talks on policy issues related to U.S. bases. At a section meeting on how to alleviate the burden of hosting bases, the central government reported on the recent agreement reached between Tokyo and Washington over a plan to transfer some exercises involving fighter planes from Kadena Air Base in the prefecture to Guam. The accord can be viewed as an effort to ease the suffering endured by residents due to noise pollution from the Kadena facility.

Also in Tuesday’s meeting, the government told prefectural and other officials it was shifting into high gear in negotiations with the U.S. administration over an earlier bilateral accord on the Gimbaru Training Area. The government emphasized its determination to ensure that the agreement, reached on the return of the training site to Japan in 1996, would be implemented in July.

There is no question that residents of Okinawa Prefecture have long been forced to endure an excessive burden, providing an overwhelming 75 percent of the land occupied by U.S. military bases and other facilities in this country.

Meanwhile, the significance of the U.S. armed presence in the prefecture is even greater today, given the severity of the recent security environment surrounding Japan and East Asia.

The latest agreement on the transfer of some exercises from the Kadena base, as well as the envisaged return of the Gimbaru site, point to the significance of making even the slightest headway in reducing the burden on the prefecture and obtaining support and cooperation for these actions from local residents. Doing so is indispensable for securing U.S. forces’ stable use of military installations in the prefecture.

The Japanese government must continue to explore various ways of alleviating the burden born by residents in the prefecture and eventually achieve those goals.

Since last month, Prime Minister Naoto Kan and several Cabinet members associated with the base issue have visited Okinawa Prefecture. This comes after the Kan administration was often inclined to put off dealing with all intractable base-related problems, so we believe his government merits praise for beginning to seriously address the issue of U.S. bases in the prefecture.

There is no doubt that the relocation of the Futenma installation is the most important task for the government in resolving the base issue.

It will be no easy task for the Kan administration to make sure the prefectural government retracts its continued demand that the Futenma heliport be relocated outside the prefecture. Still, it is essential for it to make progress in resolving the Futenma dispute, a task that must be accomplished to help reduce the burden shouldered by residents near the heliport and restore trust in the Japan-U.S. alliance.

With this in mind, the government must earnestly work to ease the burden shouldered by the prefecture as a whole and at the same time promote the development ― economic, industrial and otherwise ― of the prefecture, thus mending its tattered relations with local leaders and residents. This should be complemented by persistent efforts to persuade them to accept the government plan to relocate the Futenma base within the prefecture.

All this is an obligation to be fulfilled by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government, which has created the current difficult situation involving the Futenma controversy.

It is disturbing to see that Cabinet ministers related to the base issue are far from united in addressing the Futenma dispute.

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara is hurrying to obtain a final government decision about matters related to the construction of an alternative facility for Futenma. For instance, he has reportedly insisted on dropping one of two alternatives presented in an earlier report compiled by specialists from the Japanese and U.S. governments concerning how to arrange runways at a planned new airfield, and called for adopting the other as the construction method for the project.

The report proposed two possible construction methods ― one requiring two runways to be placed in a V-shaped configuration, and the other designed to build an extended runway in what is called the I-shaped format.

Maehara’s approach is apparently aimed at laying the groundwork for a successful trip to the United States by the prime minister in the spring.

The foreign minister’s stance contrasts with the negative view expressed about his idea by Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa. “I will not adopt a crude approach in which the Japanese and U.S. governments bypass Okinawa in making decisions,” Kitazawa has said.

It should be remembered that the Futenma issue became utterly confused partly because members of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s Cabinet repeatedly expressed different positions. Kan needs to ensure that Cabinet members related to the issue of relocating Futenma speak with one voice.

(The Yomiuri Shimbun)

(Asia News Network)
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