A top US envoy voiced optimism yesterday that Washington and Tokyo would be able to resolve a row over the relocation of a controversial US base that has strained ties between the two key allies.
The Japanese government has been hunting for months for a new home for the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa, where it faces strong opposition among local residents.
However, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has since backtracked on an election pledge to move the base off the island, and last week conceded that most of the US operations will have be moved within Okinawa, as originally agreed by previous conservative governments in Washington and Tokyo in 2006.
“I remain confident that we will be able to arrive at an outcome that meets the operational needs of the United States, but is also politically responsible,” said Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
“Japan remains our closest ally in Asia,” he said at a press conference in Bangkok. “It’s absolutely essential that we have a strong and stable relationship between Tokyo and Washington as we have to confront uncertainty in the Asia-Pacific region.”
After its World War II victory, the US set up scores of bases in Japan and, under a post-war security pact, is committed to defending the country, which has renounced offensive military action.
However, many of the bases have triggered strong opposition from local residents, who complain of aircraft noise, pollution and crime, especially on Okinawa, which hosts more than half of the 47,000 US troops.
Hatoyama and his allies have long pledged to “ease the burden” on Okinawa, but their plans to relocate the Futenma base elsewhere have failed to produce viable alternatives while badly straining ties with Washington.