Japan Builds Support for Futenma Move
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2011 A week after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ visit to Tokyo to discuss a broad range of issues including the realignment roadmap for U.S. forces based in Japan, Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa traveled to Okinawa yesterday to build support for the plan.
Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, second from left, meets with Air Force Brig. Gen. Ken Wilsbach, 18th Wing commander, right, for a mission briefing and a tour of Kadena Air Base on the Japanese island of Okinawa, Jan. 20, 2011. Kitazawa expressed appreciation for the leadership, cooperation and hard work demonstrated by the men and women at Kadena. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Darnell T. Cannady
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Kitazawa also toured Kadena Air Base, where he got a mission update from Air Force Brig. Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach, the 18th Wing commander, and thanked U.S. service members for their role in regional security, base officials reported.
Kitazawa recognized the support Kadena’s airmen contribute, both operationally and through the base’s community relations activities.
He also emphasized the importance of Japan and the United States working together to build better understanding among the Okinawan people about the importance of Kadena’s presence.
Wilsbach described base leaders’ regular engagement with the local community and ongoing efforts to build trust and understanding, officials said.
Also, making good on the pledge he and Gates made last week to move forward on the bilateral agreement to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a less-populated part of Okinawa, Kitazawa met with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and community members to help in overcoming local resistance, Japanese defense officials reported.
“The realignment roadmap is important,” Gates said during a Jan. 13 news conference in Tokyo. “We do understand that it is politically a complex matter in Japan, and we intend to follow the lead of the Japanese government in working with the people of Okinawa to take their interests and their concerns into account.”
Gates said his talks with Kitazawa helped to pave the way for relocating U.S. forces in Okinawa “in ways that are more appropriate to our strategic posture while reducing the impact on the communities nearby.”
The secretary underscored the changes the realignment plan will bring to Okinawa.
“Thousands and thousands of United States Marines and their dependents will depart the island,” he said. “Significant land and facilities will return to the people of Okinawa. The U.S. presence will be less visible on the island. So there are very real benefits to people of Okinawa in this realignment roadmap.”
Gates emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance, which he said “is broader, deeper and indeed richer than any single issue.”
Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told a news conference today that he, too, plans to visit Okinawa before the month’s end to build support for relocating Futenma within Okinawa.