PM Hatoyama urges Okinawans to accept US military base
Issued on: Modified:
Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama Tuesday abandoned a plan to relocate the Futenma US marine base off the island of Okinawa, calling on local people to accept that at least some aspects of the unpopular base "would have to stay".
REUTERS - Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Tuesday urged Okinawans to accept a plan to keep at least part of a controversial U.S. base on the island, risking a further blow to voter support ahead of an election.
The feud over shifting the Futenma Marine base has shaken ties with Washington and contributed to Hatoyama’s tumbling support rates ahead of the upper house election his Democratic Party must win to avoid policy deadlock.
On his first visit to Okinawa since taking office, the premier said he wanted local people to accept a plan that would keep some of Futenma’s facilities within the prefecture, apologising for the burden this would cause.
The news sparked shock and anger around Okinawa, after he had earlier raised hopes the base could be moved off the island altogether.
“Whenever you move a base or build a new one, there will be critical voices from local people,” Hatoyama, dressed in a traditional short-sleeved Okinawan shirt, told reporters after meeting Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima.
“I must accept those feelings, but I would like the people of the whole country to understand and be willing to share the burden, because the bases are necessary for national security.”
He did not give details of the government proposal, but said moving the whole base off the island had proved difficult from a deterrence perspective.
Okinawa governor Nakaima said there appeared to be a big gap between Hatoyama’s plans and the wishes of local people.
“There is still some time until the end of May. I want him to continue to consider this in line with his election pledges,” he told reporters.
Okinawa plays host to about half the 49,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan. Resentment of the noise, crime and accidents associated with the military presence periodically flares into outrage.
On Tuesday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the city hall in the island’s capital of Naha demanding Hatoyama keep his promises.
“From before the election, he was promising to move the base out,” said 48-year-old Chikako Toguchi of Nago on Okinawa, referring to last year’s general election.
“That’s why I and a lot of my friends voted for the Democrats. If it turns out he just said that to win the election, he has made fools of the Okinawans,” she said.
Hatoyama’s trip came as Japanese and U.S. officials began working level talks on the base problem in Tokyo on Tuesday.
The United States wants to go ahead with a 2006 agreement to shift Futenma’s facilities to a site off Camp Schwab, another Marine base in a more remote part of Okinawa.
Domestic media say Hatoyama wants to compromise by shifting some Futenma Marines to the tiny island of Tokunoshima, northeast of Okinawa, while altering plans for a new runway off Camp Schwab to reduce the environmental impact.
The top U.S. envoy on the issue said in a recent newspaper interview he had received a “serious” proposal on Futenma that could move talks forward, but Washington has said it will not accept a plan opposed by local people.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe