20 years after SACO agreement, Okinawa base plans languishing
Friday marked 20 years since the Japanese and U.S. governments announced the final report by the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) for realigning, consolidating and reducing U.S. military facilities and areas in Okinawa Prefecture, including the return of 11 U.S. military facilities and other issues.
Both governments hope to relieve the prefecture’s burden of hosting U.S. bases by implementing a partial return of the Northern Training Area, the largest U.S. military facility in the prefecture, covering land in the villages of Kunigami and Higashi, on Dec. 22. However, the return of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station land in Ginowan in the prefecture, which was the main feature of the SACO final report, has not been translated into reality.
At a press conference Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga mentioned the SACO final report, saying: “The essential point of the report is to relocate the Futenma Air Station, which is said to be the most dangerous base [of its kind] in the world, to the Henoko district [in Nago in the same prefecture]. We would like to proceed with the relocation while explaining [the situation] to the local people.”
With regard to the partial return of the Northern Training Area, Suga emphasized its significance. “It will greatly contribute to the reduction of Okinawa’s burden,” he said.
The SACO final report was announced on Dec. 2, 1996, and the return of about 5,000 hectares used for U.S. military facilities was included in the report. Since the Northern Training Area makes up about 80 percent of the areas, if part of the training area, 4,000-hectare, is returned, it will mean the return of about 90 percent of the total will be completed.
However, when it comes to the relocation of the Futenma Air Station to the Henoko district in Nago, the central and Okinawa prefectural governments have been doing battle in court, and conflict between the two is becoming serious.
While about 35,300 hectares of land was used exclusively for 144 U.S. military facilities in 1972, just before the reversion of Okinawa to Japan, the areas have declined by 36 percent to 22,619 hectares today, with 31 U.S. facilities using the land.Speech