Executive Office for the Governor of Okinawa states U.S. military will not be allowed use of Naha Airport as a condition for Futenma return

July 6, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo

In regard to the fact that the United States military predicates the return of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma on the ability to use a civilian airport in case of emergencies, Kiichi Jahana, head of the Executive Office for the Governor of Okinawa, said at a meeting of the Prefectural Assembly on July 5 that he supposes the civilian airport the U.S. government has in mind is likely Naha Airport. He emphasized, “We will absolutely not permit use of Naha Airport [by the U.S. military].” It was the first time a prefectural official made reference to a specific civilian airport that might be used.

Regarding Futenma’s return, at a meeting of the House of Councilors Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense on June 15, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada stated, “If the requisite conditions for the return of Futenma are not met, it will not be returned.” It was the first time a Japanese defense minister made this remark explicitly, and her comment revealed that MCAS Futenma might not be returned even if the new base in Henoko it is built.

In April, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report asserting that runways at the planned new Henoko base will not be long enough for the Marines to carry out all of their duties, stating that the U.S. military must be allowed use of another, longer runway on some occasions and indicating that of twelve possible candidates for such alternate runway, one is in Okinawa.

At the July 5 Prefectural Assembly meeting, Mr. Jahana of the Executive Office of the Governor was asked about the one candidate located in Okinawa, and he replied that the Japanese and U.S. governments have not made reference to a specific airport, but added, “The runways at MCAS Futenma are 2,800 meters long, so I imagine they are likely referring to Naha Airport, which has 2,700-meter runways.” He further expressed his opposition to such a plan, stating, “Naha Airport is overcrowded. It is already used by the Japan Self-Defense Forces. There would be a negative impact on tourism. We well absolutely not permit [its use by the U.S. military].” His comments were in response to a question by Assemblyman Shoichi Taira of the “Okinawa” faction.

At the June 5 Prefectural Assembly meeting, Governor Takeshi Onaga emphasized that Defense Minister Inada’s comments constituted an official response, saying that the remark had been confirmed four times at the House of Councilors Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense meeting. “I experienced extreme shock [at the defense minister’s words],” said Onaga. “This issue [of the conditions for Futenma’s return] was not brought up at all during discussions at the time of [the previous governor’s] approval of the land reclamation permit, yet there was talk of ceasing operations at Futenma within five years. It is incomprehensible,” Onaga stated, expressing his mistrust toward the Japanese government, which had previously made no mention of this condition for Futenma’s return.

The conditions for Futenma’s return were decided as part of a plan to return or consolidate U.S. bases south of Kadena Air Base, which was agreed upon by the Japanese and U.S. governments in April 2013.
(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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