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Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012
Hashimoto's party still grappling with developing a policy on U.S. bases
OSAKA — As Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto's Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) refines its platform in preparation for the next general election, the specific policies it will adopt regarding U.S. military bases in Okinawa remain unclear.
Statements from party leaders on relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko, in the northern part of Okinawa, have created the impression Osaka Prefecture is seriously interested in seeing it moved to Kansai airport.
Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui told a Nippon Ishin no Kai meeting on Sept. 23 that the prefecture was studying such a move but quickly backtracked under intense questioning.
The governor was then contradicted by Hashimoto, who said the agreed-upon Henoko plan was the only one being considered. But that has not stopped speculation, especially since Matsui's comment was not the first time Hashimoto has had to deny efforts were being made by his party or others in Osaka to move Futenma's functions to Kansai airport.
After reports in February that Osaka was considering the possibility, the mayor said his party had no specific proposals in mind. But while governor in 2009, Hashimoto suggested Futenma be relocated to Kansai airport to make use of the second runway, which was completed in 2007.
The idea has the quiet support of many in the Kansai business community, and has been informally discussed by Osaka Prefecture since the late 1990s. However, U.S. officials have privately described such a move as unrealistic for logistic reasons.
However, Hashimoto's support for the Henoko plan, as well as his call for Okinawa to accept the deployment of MV-22 Ospreys over strong local opposition, comes as Nippon Ishin no Kai faces growing criticism over its foreign policy. Despite a reputation as something of a nationalist, Hashimoto surprised and angered his hawkish supporters when he proposed that the Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan be jointly managed by Japan and South Korea, which administers them under the name Dokdo, and that he does not favor stationing Japanese troops on the Senkaku Islands.
Meanwhile, Okinawa officials are proceeding with plans to take their opposition to the Henoko relocation and deployment of the Ospreys to the U.S..
Later this month, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima travels to Washington.