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2014年7月29日 (火)

(社説)オスプレイ移転 選挙目当てで済ますな

July 26, 2014
EDITORIAL: Osprey redeployment plan should be more than a vote-grabbing ploy
(社説)オスプレイ移転 選挙目当てで済ますな

The Abe administration has revealed a plan to temporarily redeploy a fleet of MV-22 Osprey aircraft from the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to Saga Airport, a commercial facility.

In Okinawa, U.S. military bases were built when the southern island prefecture was under U.S. administration. During this period, the United States transferred many of its military facilities on Japan’s mainland to Okinawa. Forty-two years after Okinawa was returned to Japan, the prefecture, which accounts for only 0.6 percent of Japan’s total land area, is home to 74 percent of the U.S. military facilities in the nation.

Additional burdens should not be imposed on the people in Okinawa, who have long been suffering from accidents and noise of military aircraft and crimes and accidents involving U.S. servicemen.

So far, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has been claiming that moving the Futenma airbase to another location within the prefecture is the only realistic option for dealing with the risks posed by the base, currently located in the middle of a crowded city. In making its case, the administration has cited geographical and other factors.

It is significant that the administration has indicated the possibility of moving functions of the base outside the prefecture, albeit temporarily.

But the announced plan has raised many questions.

First, the fact that a gubernatorial election will be held in Okinawa in November raises the suspicion that the move is politically motivated.

It is expected that incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima, who has accepted the government’s proposal to relocate the Futenma base to another place in the prefecture, will face a tough challenge by Takeshi Onaga, the mayor of Naha, the prefecture’s capital, who is opposed to the proposal.

If Nakaima, who has decided to play ball with the central government on the Futenma issue, fails to be re-elected, the Abe administration’s plan to relocate the base to the Henoko district in Nago, a less crowded city in Okinawa, could fall through.

In order to placate Okinawans resentful over the heavy U.S. military presence, the administration is making desperate efforts to underscore its commitment to reducing their burden.

Other related proposals that have emerged include redeploying 15 airborne refueling aircraft from the Futenma base to the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture and providing state subsidies to prefectures that have agreed to accept U.S. military facilities for base realignment. These ideas also appear to be part of the government’s efforts to bolster Nakaima’s chances in the November poll.

The plan to transfer Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft from Futenma to Saga, however, won’t really reduce the burden borne by Okinawa. The fleet will return to Okinawa when the new base has been built in Henoko.

The Ground Self-Defense Force has been considering the deployment of 17 Ospreys to Saga Airport, starting in 2015. The temporary redeployment plan is a stopgap measure taking advantage of the GSDF’s plan.

There is no guarantee that the GSDF will be able to deploy such a fleet of the aircraft to Saga Airport. Before the construction of the airport, the Saga prefectural government reached an agreement with local fishermen’s cooperatives on the prevention of related pollution. The pact states that the prefectural government has no intention of sharing Saga Airport with the SDF.

Moreover, there remain serious safety concerns about the Osprey, which has a troubled history of accidents. There are also concerns about low-frequency noise pollution. Many local residents around Saga Airport have reacted angrily to the redeployment plan.

Another big hurdle for this idea is the U.S. military’s unwillingness to move the Futenma airbase off Okinawa. Does the Japanese government have any workable plan to persuade the U.S. forces to accept the redeployment?

If the administration is serious about easing Okinawa’s burden of being host to so many U.S. military bases, it should scrap the plan to build a new base in Henoko.

If its proposal to transfer Ospreys from Futenma to Saga is not a vote-grabbing ploy, the Abe administration should declare that the redeployment will be a first step toward relocating the Futenma base outside Okinawa and then start serious negotiations with Saga Prefecture and the United States.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 26


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