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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

Press Conference by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on the occasion of his visit to Okinawa

Monday, February 27, 2012

[Provisional Translation]


REPORTER:I am from Ryukyu Broadcasting Corporation, affiliated with the Okinawa Prefecture Press Club. As I am sure you are aware, 74% of all the facilities and bases of U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) are concentrated in Okinawa, placing an excessive burden on the prefecture. Today you have seen both from land and air the U.S. bases in Okinawa, including the Futenma Air Station and Makiminato Service Area. Could I ask you for your frank impressions of what you have seen?

PRIME MINISTER NODA:As you noted, I am duly aware of the figures, namely that Okinawa, which accounts for 0.6% of Japan’s territory, is the location where 74% of U.S. bases and facilities are concentrated. When I was flying over the island I could see the reality for myself that Okinawa is truly dotted here and there with bases and facilities. In addition, at Futenma and also at Makiminato I alighted from the helicopter to have a look inside those facilities, which impressed upon me the truly enormous scale of the land that they utilize. In that sense, my visit here today has brought home to me the great burden placed on the people of Okinawa. I believe that there will still probably be various questions to be asked, but my visit here today made me renew the strong resolve that the Noda Cabinet must press forward, delinking the issue of the relocation of the Futenma Air Station from the package relating to the relocation of U.S. Marines to Guam and the return of lands south of Kadena, which is an issue currently been discussed between Japan and the United States. We must make every effort to achieve concrete progress relating to the return of the bases and land.

REPORTER:During your visit there has been no forum for dialogue with the people of the prefecture, including the mayor of Nago City, which is designated as the site for the relocated Futenma Air Station. Do you believe that on the basis of your visit on this occasion you can understand the thoughts of the people of the prefecture about the base issue? Do you also believe that you can really convince the people of the prefecture about the relocation to Henoko?

PRIME MINISTER NODA:Yesterday I saw to it that the places on my itinerary would ensure that Okinawa’s history is etched into my memory. Today I have met with the Governor, as well as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the prefectural assembly and representatives from economic organizations, and engaged in an exchange of opinions. I have also made efforts to view the various bases and facilities and get a personal picture of their current status. Although my itinerary in Okinawa is limited and subject to time constraints and there are many more people I should meet, my intention is such that I am now standing at the start line from where I will go on to seek the understanding of the people of Okinawa. I believe that I will have opportunities in the future to visit Okinawa again and I will also meet with people who come to Tokyo. On such occasions I will continue to explain the basic stance of the Government in a calm and attentive manner.

REPORTER:I am Nakai of Kyoto News, representing the Cabinet Office Press Club. You have just mentioned the delinking of the issue of the relocation of the Futenma Air Station from the other issues, and this is something that is currently being discussed in the consultations at the deputy director-general level between senior officials from Japan and the United States with a view to arriving at an agreement. I believe that you have spoken previously about materializing specific outcomes to reduce the burden on Okinawa, with a time frame of “a few months.” With such a timeframe in mind, I think you intend to visit the United States, and do you expect to be able to come to an agreement with President Obama in a summit meeting on reducing the burden of military bases that will give assurance to the people of Okinawa? If you are planning a visit to the United States, specifically when would that be?

PRIME MINISTER NODA:With regard to the timing of a visit to the United States, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the gift of cherry trees from Japan to the United States and I would very much like to visit Washington D.C. when those blossoms are in bloom. However, the President has his own schedule and in Japan the Diet is in session. Therefore I must seek the understanding of the Diet for an overseas visit. It is for these reasons that schedules are currently being coordinated to find a time for the visit that is convenient for both sides. That being the case, with regard to the question about how far discussions will progress on such issues as the return of lands south of Kadena, for example, I believe that the consultations themselves will take several months. I think, therefore, that it would be unwise to seek a premature decision merely to coincide with a visit to the United States on when the lands south of Kadena, for example, will be returned. I wish to make a response that takes into account the various opinions of the people of Okinawa. It will take some time for this to be possible, possibly several months. However, while it would be a good thing for a number of directions to be identified in consultations, these will not be decided in a bundle simply to coincide with my visit to the United States. When I do visit, I expect that we will engage in comprehensive discussions on various issues, including the security issues you mentioned and also economic and human exchanges, from the perspective of further deepening the Japan-U.S. Alliance. I hope therefore that such matters could be included in a package about which an announcement could be made.

REPORTER:With regard to the issue of the relocation of the Futenma Air Station, you have presented the Government stance to the Governor of Okinawa, which is to relocate the air station to Henoko, thereby avoiding the permanent location of the air station in Futenma. You have requested this relocation in tandem with other measures to be put into practice that are aimed at actually reducing the burden on the prefecture. However, I believe that opinion in the prefecture, and also the opinion of the Governor himself, is strongly in favor of relocation outside the prefecture. There are concerns, therefore, that due to the divergence of opinions it may be the case that the air station could become permanently located in Futenma, in the absence of any progress on relocation. With very little progress being seen, do you have specific measures in mind? Or rather, do you believe that in the face of the current impasse, if you really want to eliminate the dangers posed by the current location in Futenma, now is the time to consider a relocation site other than Henoko? Do you intend to advance considerations along such lines?

PRIME MINISTER NODA:What has been confirmed in the current Japan-U.S. consultations is that the plan for relocation to Henoko is the most beneficial option and presents a roadmap for further discussion. Consultations are continuing on the basis that the issues of the relocation of U.S. Marines to Guam and the return of lands south of Kadena are to be delinked from the issue of the Futenma Air Station. That is the basic posture that we aim to follow. I am aware that the Governor and others have stated their opinion that such a relocation proposal would be difficult to achieve and that it would be quicker to seek relocation outside the prefecture. I am now therefore seeking to create an environment to gain understanding in which specific results can be achieved in the near-term concerning the reduction of the burden of U.S. bases in Okinawa. It is with this aim in mind that I wish to continue to give thorough explanation on the situation to the people of Okinawa and seek their understanding on the issue.

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