- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine, first elected in 1998 and re-elected in December 2002, spoke to Washington Times reporter Takehiko Kambayashi about the U.S. military presence in his tropical island prefecture of Japan.

Question: Some say you should withdraw a 15-year limit on the use by U.S. Marines in Okinawa of an alternative facility to replace Futenma Air Station.

Answer: I don’t have the slightest intention of doing that. The reason is this: The ideal that Okinawa always has is of being a peaceful and prosperous island without military bases. But the reality is that 75 percent of U.S. military installations in Japan are on Okinawa, which makes up only 0.6 percent of Japan’s total land mass. My job is to improve the situation as quickly as possible to get close to the ideal. Thus, it was a very difficult decision for me to accept an alternative [U.S. Marine air] facility, because our goal is no bases.

[But] we have the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, and [the Okinawa bases] help keep peace in Japan and neighboring countries. That’s the reality, too. Certainly, that is what I need to fully understand as governor of Okinawa, one of Japanese prefectures. So when I made this very difficult decision, I demanded several conditions from the Japanese government.

First, give consideration to the region’s residents and environment.

Second, the [replacement] airport should be for joint military-civilian use. Such an airport could help develop the northern part of the island.

Third, the term of [U.S. military use of] the facility should be limited to 15 years. The time limit is aimed to avoid making the base eternal. This is part of our effort of taking a step at a time toward the ideal.

Our requests were approved at a Cabinet meeting [of the government in Tokyo]. We would like the government to develop the conditions without further delay.

Q: Last November, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Okinawa and met with you. Can you tell us what you and he talked about?

A: Among the requests that I made are reducing the number of [U.S.] troops; consolidating and reducing the U.S. military bases; more often conducting military training outside Okinawa; and preventing incidents and accidents.

I also brought up the issue of the use of submarine sonar. [Editor’s note: Okinawans are concerned that sonar could have a detrimental effect on marine wildlife.] Sonar systems are used here, but not in the United States. We don’t believe that’s fair, I said. The secretary responded by saying sonar “causes no harm.”

Then I talked about more problems of noise from military operations and the secretary said the [U.S.] military had scaled back its training. So I asked him to look at the data that I had given him in advance. I also made requests concerning the issues of an alternative [military] facility and [amending] the Status of Forces Agreement [which concerns the treatment of U.S. military personnel by Japanese police and courts of law].

In response, the secretary said that these bases have helped keep this region peaceful. Then, he was about to stand up. So, I said to him, ‘It’s true, but Okinawa had been under U.S. military rule for 27 years [from the end of World War II in 1945 until its reversion to Japanese rule in 1972], during which time [more] bases were constructed.”

I would say that, through our talks, I found some gap between us in our perceptions. Local papers reported that the talks were “friendly at first but disappointing in the end.”

Q: You say you want the reduction of the U.S. military presence. But, if indeed that happens, the island’s economic loss would be rather large because the bases also mean rents, employment opportunities and more public-works spending from Tokyo. Would you be ready for that?

A: Since taking office, I have introduced measures for economic growth. We’ve succeeded in attracting about 90 companies now doing business here. More than 70 of them are from the information and communication industry. In the beginning, we covered 80 percent of their [telecommunications] costs, so a large number of companies came. But if we keep doing that, we’ll go broke. So now, we let them use fiber optics between Okinawa and Tokyo for free. [Okinawa owns the fiber-optics cables.]

We are looking at the future and trying to find a stand on our own feet. Thankfully, we received money through public investments. But we now want the government to give us fishing tackle, not fish. If you eat fish, it’s over. On the other hand, using fishing tackle requires Okinawa’s efforts. If you don’t catch fish with it, that’s the end of the matter. However, if you are lucky, you get 20, 30 or even 100 fish. You have to be very smart. You should be very aware of things like timing, the tide and bait. Okinawa is getting on the right track.

[In the past,] liberal administrations only demanded the removal of U.S. bases, but they didn’t take any concrete measures. I’m putting up one policy after another. I’m sure Okinawa will change beyond recognition.

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