By Bill Charles
In a few days the Year of Snake will turn into the Year of Horse, and while the problems surrounding Okinawa are likely to stay the same, theres much to be happy and hopeful about, too.
If Futenma Marine Corps Air Station didnt exist, and if China didnt have its eye on the Senkaku Islands in southwestern Okinawa, 2013 would have been a rather ho-hum year. Alas, the Marine Corps air base is here, and China is sparring with Japan over the five uninhabited islands, making them the years top newsmakers.
Futenma: years of wrangling since 1996 havent produced the deal necessary to shut down the base atop a hill in densely populated Ginowan City, although if ever theres a breakthrough on the horizon, it could come any day. Japan and the United States have picked Camp Schwab and adjacent Oura Bay in the Henoko district of Nago City for the replacement airfield facility, designed a facility that includes a pair of 2,500-meter V-shaped runways extending into the bay, and are waiting for the green light.
The go ahead is now squarely in the hands of Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who has promised to make a decision this month on approving the land reclamation project necessary to transform the airfield from a concept paper to reality. Nakaima has been outspoken that he really wants Futenma out of Okinawa, but political realities come into play here, and he could be hard pressed to say no because of pressures from Tokyo that also include substantial amounts of money being poured into Okinawa in exchange for his support.
With Nakaimas signature, the project moves ahead, although it is expected protests and demonstrations will continue by those who oppose continued use of Okinawa land for American military facilities. The target date for completing the Futenma Replacement Facility is 2022, but Japans defense minister has only this week signaled that Prime Minister Shinzo Abes government would like to expedite the project.
A side note to the Futenma intrigue; much of Okinawas political leadership is with the Liberal Democratic Party, and local officials are much beholden to Tokyo. Okinawas LDP leaders until only weeks ago had been in opposition to the Futenma plan, but following a meeting with the chairman of the LDP, all five Okinawa members of the Diet reversed course and now support the Futenma plan. Nakaima is also a staunch LDP man, and he, too, could be hard pressed to challenge Tokyo, which has been almost literally throwing money at Okinawa Prefecture in exchange for his support. There is the 346 billion for projects, another 33 billion for a second runway at Naha International Airport, and scores of smaller sums.
Japan claims sovereignty over five tiny, isolated islands to the far south of Okinawas main island, the Senkaku Islands, and has administrative control as well as ownership of several of them. Trouble is, China and Taiwan also claim the islands belong to them, and Chinas stirring the pot that the Diaoyu Islands, as they call them, are Chinese. For more than a year, Chinas been sending air reconnaissance aircraft and scores of ships into the zone near the islands, challenging the Japan Coast Guard on numerous occasions.
China upped the ante a couple months ago, imposing a massive Air Defense ID Zone across much of the East China Sea and encompassing the Senkaku Islands. Chinas demanded that all nations respect the zone, and follow Chinese rules for entering it. The United States, Japan and Korea have rebuffed and ignored the Chinese directive, increasing tensions between the worlds economic giants.
Originally posted here:
Futenma, Senkakus provide most memorable moments of 2013