Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima has left Japan for Washington to attend a symposium on military base issues.
During his 5-day visit, he plans to directly lodge a protest with the US Defense Department over the alleged rape of a woman by 2 US sailors.
The symposium was organized by Okinawa Prefecture. It will be attended by security experts from the 2 countries. The agenda items include the security situation in Okinawa and the relocation of the US Marine Corps’ Futenma air station.
Nakaima plans to explain that the people of Okinawa are demanding the withdrawal of the plan to deploy the controversial Osprey transport aircraft at the Futenma air station.
He also plans to explain that Okinawa is demanding the relocation of the base outside the prefecture and the return of the site.
Nakaima plans to visit the Defense Department and the State Department to directly lodge a protest over the alleged rape of a woman by 2 US soldiers.
Nakaima spoke to reporters before his departure from Narita Airport on Sunday. He said he wants to hear the US experts’ view on Okinawa and exchange opinions with them. He added that he intends to explain the situation in Okinawa, including the deployment of the Osprey and the rape incident.
Japan’s new Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta agreed Wednesday that the current plan for the relocation of a U.S. Marine base within Okinawa Prefecture is the only feasible solution, Defense Ministry officials said.
Morimoto, in his first telephone talks with Panetta since assuming office on June 4, was referring to the plan to move the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station from a crowded residential area in the city of Ginowan to the less populated Henoko district of Nago.
The relocation issue has long been stalled, putting the central and local governments at odds. The government has been pushing for the plan as agreed with the United States.
The United States and Japan announced on Thursday a revised agreement on streamlining the U.S. military presence on Okinawa that will shift 9,000 Marines from the southern Japanese island to Guam and other Asia-Pacific sites.The new plan, unveiled days before Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda meets President Barack Obama in Washington, helps the allies work around the central but still-unresolved dispute over moving the Futenma air base from a crowded part of Okinawa to a new site that has vexed relations for years.”I am very pleased that, after many years, we have reached this important agreement and plan of action. I applaud the hard work and effort that went into crafting it,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement.
Japan and the United States are discussing the transfer of U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa Prefecture out of the country ahead of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station, government sources said.
The move comes as part of a review of a 2006 bilateral agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces in the country. Under the accord, the transfer of the Marines to Guam and the relocation of the Futenma station were supposed to be handled together.
Senior officials of the foreign and defense ministries of the two countries will meet in Washington on Monday to start full-fledged negotiations on a new realignment plan, according to the sources.
New Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed Wednesday that the two countries will continue efforts to relocate the Futenma base within Okinawa Prefecture in line with an accord struck in May 2010, the Foreign Ministry said.
Genba also agreed with Clinton over the phone that the two will try to talk on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York later this month, the ministry said.
The U.S. and Japan said Tuesday they would press ahead with the costly relocation a U.S. Marine air station in Japan but pushed back the deadline amid opposition to the plans in both countries.The delay in the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on the southern island of Okinawa had been widely anticipated. Japans government has failed to win the requisite assent of residents there, although the plans aim to reduce the U.S. military footprint on the island that hosts more than half of the 47,000 American troops in Japan.A joint statement said the relocation would be completed at the "earliest possible date" after 2014, the original deadline.
Thousands of Japanese have protested over a controversial US military base on the island of Okinawa.
The location of the military base has long been a contentious issue, with both Washington and Tokyo disagreeing and locals who live on the island voicing concerns over the noise and pollution caused by the stationing of troops there.
The US has had a heavy military presence in Japan since the end of the second world war.
Almost 100,000 people attended a rally demanding the base be moved off Okinawa, which Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged to do as part of his election campaign.
The United States has rejected the idea of relocating the U.S. Futenma base to Tokunoshima Island, a contentious site favored by the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, because it is too far from Okinawa-based marine units, a government source said Thursday.
Hatoyama has suggested his government will pursue the relocation of the air station to the Kagoshima Prefecture island about 200 km to the northeast, but Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said Thursday it appears resolving the issue by the end of May as promised is “extremely difficult.”
A visit by Hatoyama to the city of Kagoshima on May 15 has been in the works, other sources close to him said, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano denied that the prime minister would go to Kagoshima Prefecture in connection with the Futenma issue.
Japan, one of the postwar era’s strongest anti-nuclear voices, missed an opportunity at the nuclear summit that ended here on Tuesday to translate its commitment to disarmament into a premier spot on an emerging global agenda. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was overshadowed by those who came to Washington with specific ideas about how to shore up the global commitment to nonproliferation.
Although the issue of nuclear nonproliferation was identified early on as a priority after Japan’s new government took office in September, Mr. Hatoyama, who was seated next to President Obama over dinner, used his one-on-one time to discuss the relocation of the Futenma Marine Air Station on Okinawa, a thorn in the bilateral relationship.
Japan’s government will keep a US military base on Okinawa, meeting the demands of the Obama administration, even if that means alienating a coalition partner and local people, a vice defense minister said.
Okinawan residents, who want the Marine base moved off the island, will be offered compensation in return for accepting the government’s decision, Akihisa Nagashima, said in an interview in Tokyo yesterday, without elaborating. His remarks are the most definitive by a member of the government indicating that Japan will keep the facility on Okinawa.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has set a May deadline for settling a dispute that has overshadowed the 50th anniversary of the US-Japan security treaty. Almost 50,000 US military personnel are stationed in Japan, more than half living on Okinawa, 950 miles south of Tokyo.