Japanese ministers state that government rejects U.S.-proposed Iwakuni relocation plan

by Kohei Okata and Noritaka Araki, Staff Writers

On February 13, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka stated that the Japanese government will reject a relocation plan proposed by the United States involving U.S. troops in Okinawa be moved to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture. The two ministers met with Sekinari Nii, the governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture, and Yoshihiko Fukuda, the mayor of Iwakuni, and said, “We have no intention of asking for the additional transfer of troops to Iwakuni.”

Governor Nii and Mayor Fukuda met with Mr. Gemba at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo. Regarding the idea of relocating marines from Okinawa to Iwakuni, the governor and mayor stressed: “If this proposal is pursued, it would be an act of betrayal toward us. We are categorically opposed to such a plan.” They described previous developments, including their cooperation in connection with the relocation of 59 carrier-based aircraft from the U.S. Navy Atsugi Station in Kanagawa Prefecture to Iwakuni. This plan was agreed upon by the Japanese and U.S. governments in 2006. The two leaders also indicated that they will reserve the sale of land in the Mt. Atago area in Iwakuni to the Japanese government, which has asked that this land be used as a residential site for the aircraft carrier personnel.

Mr. Gemba denied the possibility of imposing “additional burdens” and said, “I hope you will be relieved to hear these words.” Mr. Gemba asked for their continuing cooperation with respect to the relocation of the carrier-based aircraft from Atsugi to Iwakuni, saying, “As this move is an essential part of the realignment of U.S. forces, we would like to proceed in a steady fashion.”

Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka, who met with the governor and mayor at the Defense Ministry, also indicated, “The Defense Ministry has no intention of supporting the relocation of troops to Iwakuni. This is our final position.” Mr. Tanaka again asked that the sale of the land in the Mt. Atago area be concluded by the end of this fiscal year, March 31.

Following his meetings with the foreign minister and defense minister, Mr. Nii said, “I take the words of the two ministers as an expression of their conviction. But I will have to watch closely to see if their words match future developments.” Regarding the sale of the Mt. Atago site, the governor said, “I will continue to reserve the sale until the U.S. Iwakuni Air Station is clearly exempted from the new relocation proposal.”

Concerning the realignment of U.S. forces, the United States has proposed that the number of personnel transferred to Guam from Okinawa be scaled back to 4,700, from the original plan of roughly 8,000, and that about 1,500 marines among the remaining personnel be shifted to Iwakuni, with the expense borne by Japan. The Japanese government, however, has said that it has yet to discuss the matter with its U.S. counterpart.

(Originally published on February 14, 2012)