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OKINAWA GOVERNOR’S RACE COULD AFFECT BASE PLANS Candidates want Futenma Air Station off the island

By Julian Ryall HAGATNA Guam (Marianas Business Journal, Nov. 22, 2010) – Campaigning for the November 28 gubernatorial race in Okinawa is under way, with the outcome certain to have an impact on the plans of the Japanese government and the Pentagon to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station and will inevitably affect the transfer of 8,000 Marines and their dependents to Guam.

[PIR editor’s note: Marine Corps Futenma Air Station is a United States Marine Corps base located in Ginowan, a city on the island of Okinawa. It is home to 4,000 Marines of and has been a U.S. military airbase since the island was occupied in 1945. The base is also used as a United Nations air facility.]

Washington and Tokyo reached an agreement on the relocation of Futenma to an enlarged facility at Camp Schwab, on the north-east coast of the island, but there has been no further progress between the two governments since then.

The two key candidates for governor are both demanding that Futenma be moved off the island, although former Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha, the challenger to incumbent Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, said his opponent has flip-flopped on the issue and may well do so again if reelected.

"My opponent has the Japanese and U.S. governments behind him, Iha told a rally kicking off his campaign. This battle pits the residents of Okinawa against Japan and the United States."

Nakaima has defended his efforts on Futenma, telling supporters that he has already held talks with key ministers in Tokyo to demand that the U.S. military presence on the island be scaled down.

Officials in Tokyo are watching the election carefully, acknowledging that the outcome of the election would affect the existing agreement with Washington.

"The national government cannot scrap the agreement reached by Japan and the United States, given the national interest, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa told a meeting of the House of Representatives Security Committee on November 11. We are watching very carefully to see who will win."

After the election, Nakaima said he would continue negotiations on the Marines' transfer, suggesting that he might be swayed by the central government, but discussions will inevitably take time and delay plans to complete the transfer beyond the scheduled date of 2014.

Iha, on the other hand, is likely to be far less flexible and has in the past proved a thorn in the side of the national government on this issue. If Iha wins, the wrangling over the future of the base will be more prolonged and bitter.

A recent poll showed that 80 percent of Okinawans are opposed to the relocation of Futenma base anywhere within the prefecture.

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