Extra Press Conference by the Defense Minister (05:35-05:57 P.M. November 12, 2011)
- Extra Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 05:35-05:57 P.M. November 12, 2011
Place: 4F Auditorium, Okinawa Defense Bureau(This is a provisional translation of an announcement by the Defense Minister and the Q&A session at the subsequent press conference for reference purposes only)
The original text is in Japanese.
I would like to give a brief report including the result of my visit this time to Okinawa. My aim for this visit to Okinawa is, first of all, as I said before that various measures to ease the burden for Okinawa have been a major challenge for us, in this context, before the return of the lands south of Kadena Air Base, I wanted to see with my own eyes the present situation of the six U.S. facilities, in particular, and the situation of the surrounding area, and set a schedule to do this today. Blessed with good weather, the inspection is going smoothly as scheduled. During the day, I also exchanged opinions with the responsible persons of the municipalities where U.S. bases or facilities are located, which is one of the objectives of this visit. I have been receiving various requests for some time but I am exchanging opinions so that we can make steady efforts to respond step by step to the requests from local governments and solve problems as much as possible. As we intend to complete the arrangement of various processes for the Environmental Impact Assessment Report by the end of this year while checking their implementation status, I am checking whether the works can be steadily advanced in preparation for that. At this stage I have received a report that the works on the environmental impact assessment will be in full preparation for response by the end of this year and I myself have gained confidence after hearing an explanation of the details. Then, I was given an opportunity to have breakfast with the Governor. I talked with him, exchanged opinions not only on the issues concerning Okinawa but also many other matters and explained the current political situation. I said "let us exchange candid opinions concerning Okinawa on various occasions" and the Governor responded "I think the same way." I myself wish to help where I can in the Cabinet with matters concerning Okinawa including future development. Because the realignment of U.S. military forces is a particularly important issue and I think it would be best to continue various discussions including those on the Japan-U.S. security issue, in this sense this meeting was very fruitful. This is just a brief overview but I would like to end my opening statement here and answer your questions.
2. Questions and Answers
First, I would like to ask you about the easing of the burden you mentioned at the opening. I think you received specific requests such as reduction of noise pollution and prevention of accidents at today's opinion exchange with mayors. How are you going to tackle them specifically? Additionally, you said at the doorstepping after your meeting with the governor that you are going to move ahead with the Environmental Impact Assessment Report with consent from the people of Okinawa, and you would not submit the report forcedly. Do you mean by this that you will refrain from submitting the report before the end of the year if you cannot obtain consent from Okinawa? Please answer these two questions.
In the explanation I made earlier, I failed to mention one thing which concerns the first question. The municipalities where U.S. military bases are located have been making requests concerning various troubles such as noise pollution and I received such requests today as well. Closely communicating these requests to the local responsible officials of the U.S. Forces was one of the major objectives of this visit. I received their response that they were also highly interested in these requests and would continue to respond to various local concerns closely and responsibly as much as possible. We will closely follow up on these issues, too. Your second question is about the conversation with the Governor, I believe? On this, as I have been saying for some time, since I assumed the office of the Minister of Defense, I have come to feel that we should take an approach of moving ahead with the matter based on the understanding that we, the whole nation, shall share the various burdens held by the people of Okinawa, while keeping its historical background firmly in mind and asking the people of Okinawa for understanding while respecting their feelings. Then again, I don't know the details of how the issues concerning Futenma were handled in the past two years, and there may be many reasons as to why the problem was not solved in the past 15 years. In that sense, there are procedures that are based on the laws and those based on the ordinances concerning the Environmental Impact Assessment Report, but I would like to carry forward these procedures as carefully as possible, so I said that we would like to complete the preparation by the end of this year to both the Governor and U.S. Secretary of Defense. That is because I think that it is always better to carry forward the procedures for these kinds of things based on the laws and ordinances while asking for the other party's understanding in many aspects, and that specifying an end date for accomplishing this and that would make it more difficult to solve the problem. However, I have been saying that we have a target of being prepared for a reliable response before the end of the year. In this regard, you might find some of my future expressions strange but I will make my responses in that spirit and with the best of intentions. The Governor may also have his own particular opinions, but I think that the issue will mature through various and vigorous discussions.
This may partially overlap with my first question, but with about one month since your last visit to Okinawa, I don't see any change in the situation surrounding the relocation from Futenma. In this context, what is your purpose in choosing just this timing to visit Okinawa and how do you feel about the results? Please answer these two questions.
This time again, I walked around Futenma Air Station for nearly 30 minutes. As I did the last time, I was able to listen directly to various voices of the people living there, and found that there are still many areas where we can understand each other through such an opinion exchange. As there is naturally some time before the relocation of Futenma Air Station, it is utterly unacceptable to leave the situation as it is all that time. I think we should make maximum efforts to alleviate the various noise pollution and remove various dangers as much as possible. With this objective, I wish to visit Okinawa as many times as allowed to talk with various people and see the things I should see with my own eyes so that we can solve the problems. I will continue to work on the issue with this approach.
You said that you will carry forward the submission of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report with consent from the people of Okinawa. What will you do specifically to obtain their consent and what is your criterion for judging that you have obtained their consent? And will you provide an explanation to the U.S. side on the progress of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report at the Japan-U.S. Summit scheduled in December? Please answer these two questions.
The answer to the question of whether I will provide the U.S. side with an explanation on the current situation is "no." Last time, I discussed this in detail with Secretary of Defense Panetta and the Secretary did not say anything about specifying an end date as the U.S. government policy. I remember that a question was made about this at a press conference at that time as well. In this sense, because the situation remains largely unchanged, I don't think that an explanation is necessary. Then, I believe you are asking about the various discussions I had with the Governor. As I mentioned earlier, while we have been explaining in detail what we can explain including the content of the Environmental Impact Assessment to the stakeholders including the Governor of Okinawa, the Governor expressed his view at the stage of the preparation documents and has given various opinions on the Osprey as well. I think it all comes down to carefully explaining things in detail including these issues. We are not talking to decide whether or not to submit anything when prepared but, I think, basically in this attitude, everything depends on following the legal procedures and procedures based on ordinances in an amicable manner. Beyond that, we have not yet decided what to do and when. We are not working with any specific end date. I communicated well that we are making preparation in earnest for submission before the end of this year. That's what I'm saying.
You said earlier that you gained confidence that the works on the Environmental Impact Assessment Report will be in full preparation by the end of this year. Please provide a more specific explanation on where your special concern in the Environmental Impact Assessment Report is and why you have gained confidence that you will make it in time.
I think it is too early now to provide everyone with an explanation on the content of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report. In short, the work is still in progress, so I would like to be cautious about making it public in this sense. Above all, a written statement on the brief by the Governor, as well as other documents, has been submitted. I checked whether the content of the assessment report duly reflects these things or not. Furthermore, as the final confirmation was made about the shape and location of Henoko Airfield at "2 + 2" in June, I checked whether the assessment was advancing smoothly based on that.
You said, "after obtaining consent from the people of Okinawa," but the Governor said after the meeting of this morning that he demanded the relocation of the air station out of Okinawa. Apparently consent is not yet gained for the relocation to Henoko. In this situation, do you think you will actually be able to gain consent in light of this visit? What concrete favorable responses do you expect?
I think it all comes down to conducting vigorous discussions in earnest with various stakeholders. Because we have the big issue of removing the danger of the current Futenma Air Station, no one disputes early relocation of Futenma Air Station. I think it is also obvious that we should make maximum efforts to alleviate noise pollution and remove dangers for the time before the relocation. We know that a discussion on supporting or opposing the relocation itself is very difficult in this situation, but I think that conducting various dialogues will become essential for the issue of the relocation of Futenma Air Station while at the same time vigorously discussing the issues such as the future role of U.S. forces in Okinawa and the security of the whole country. Naturally, security efforts by the Ministry of Defense alone will not be enough for the solution. I think it is most important to improve the security environment in Asia through a total policy including diplomatic policy and economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. In this context, I think it is necessary to work to obtain understanding of the Futenma issue while discussing the direction or future role of U.S. bases in Okinawa, so, it is too early to say anything like a conclusion by giving a simple yes or no when picking up just the Futenma issue.
You say you will gain consent while holding various discussions but there is no consensus even among Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Diet members elected from Okinawa. In view of this situation, how will you obtain consent from the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly and Diet members elected from Okinawa?
I have been saying to Secretary of Defense Panetta that among all the people of Japan, the people of Okinawa prefecture are most sensitive to the issue of peace and have a strong desire for peace. In handling this issue in this context, we naturally must ask for efforts on the U.S. Forces side such as the (implementation of the) Japan-U.S. agreement, while making our own efforts. We wish to get things going this way. Discussions on such an issue should not be narrowed down on just the relocation of Futenma Air Station. I think it is very important to make various discussions with a view to the medium- to long-term role of U.S. forces in Okinawa and the security of Japan. There are many Diet members both inside and outside the DPJ who are strongly concerned with the security issues. I believe that major homework has been assigned to us politicians to make efforts to ease Okinawa's burden due to U.S. forces while deepening discussions in this context. Various security challenges that will continue to appear are not something that will be solved easily, but it is politicians' duty to continue to work to ease the burden on specific regions. In light of this perspective, I would like to work with the will to make maximum efforts to reduce the excessive burden borne by Okinawa, including but not limited to the issue of Futenma.
- Press Resources