Press Conference

Extra Press Conference by the Defense Minister(04:37-04:47 P.M. June 13, 2013)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date 04:37-04:47 P.M. June 13, 2013
Place: 1st Floor Lobby of Building A, Ministry of Defense (MOD)
(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.

1. Announcements
We have been preparing to progressively move forward with the return of bases south of Kadena, in order to alleviate the burden on Okinawa, and today I can report that the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee have reached an agreement in Okinawa on the procedures for the return of the West Futenma Housing area at Camp Zukeran, which had been seen as the most likely candidate for a swift return as part of these endeavors. In particular, the West Futenma Housing area covers an extensive area of land, totaling 52 hectares ? equivalent to 11 Tokyo Domes ? and its return has been fervently requested by the local citizens of Ginowan for quite some time. It was originally expected that this agreement by the Joint Committee would be reached at the end of this year, but efforts to speed up various procedures have led to its conclusion about six months earlier than anticipated. We will continue to strive in the same way to alleviate the burden as soon as possible.

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
I believe the expression used was “fiscal 2014 or later,” so does the fact that these procedures have been brought forward by six months mean that the overall schedule and the timing of the return could be as early as this year?

Minister:
The tasks required now include things like putting up fences to indicate that “the area from here onward will be returned,” and I believe that it will take time to put such equipment in place, but I think that the initial schedule at least could, in general, go ahead around six months earlier than originally planned.

Question:
So potentially, it could be returned within the year?

Minister:
I believe that there are various possibilities. I would like to return the land as soon as possible. In addition, the Mayor of Ginowan and various local landowners have been in contact with me for some time, to let me know that the feeling among the local community is “We’re grateful for the return of the land, but we’d like the government to make an effort in terms of the way in which the sites will be used,” so I believe that we will continue with discussions focused on this kind of positive direction.

Question:
You said that the schedule could be brought forward by as much as six months, but does that mean that you expect the tail end of the return process to take place six months earlier as well?

Minister:
The situation right now is that the Japan?U.S. Joint Committee was able to reach this agreement six months early. If the overall schedule proceeds smoothly, I think that it will finish earlier.

Question:
What was the main reason why the Japan?U.S. Joint Committee were able to reach an agreement earlier than anticipated?

Minister:
I believe that it is the result of both the Japanese and U.S. participants striving to ensure that the return can take place as soon as possible, and to move forward with a plan for making effective use of the sites returned.

Question:
Is it reasonable to think that we can expect the return of other areas and districts to be brought forward as well, not just the West Futenma area?

Minister:
The construction of alternative facilities or relocation is a prerequisite in areas other than other bases that can be returned without delay, so I think that further efforts in due course will require the understanding of the base being transferred or the local authority in that area. In any case, I would like to strive to enable the return of these areas to take place as soon as possible, after securing the understanding of the local community. In addition, with regard to the relocation to Guam, I was recently granted the opportunity to tour the area in question and spoke to the local governor. I would like to make progress in alleviating the burden on Okinawa ? including through relocation to Guam ? as soon as possible.

Question:
I would like to ask about the relocation to Guam. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently published a report in which it states that the master plan for the relocation will not be ready until 2018, and the main reason for the budget freeze in the U.S. Congress is that there is no master plan for this. Camp Kinser is meant to be returned in 2024, and the citizens of the prefecture have high hopes about this, but concern is mounting within the prefecture that the timing of the return may be delayed. Given that you have inspected the area, I would like to know whether you intend to call on the U.S. Government to speed up the formulation of this master plan.

Minister:
Of course, I believe it is important to move forward with the relocation to Guam in accordance with the schedule agreed by Japan and the U.S. We have already told them that we want them to make haste with the master plan. When I last went to Guam and inspected the area, I certainly did not get the impression that they had not yet lifted a finger; in fact, construction work on part of the foundations has already begun, so we want to strive to ensure that the current agreement proceeds without delay.

Question:
In terms of the timing agreed by Japan and the U.S., the wording used wherever possible is “or later,” but do you want to follow the schedule or would you like to bring it forward?

Minister:
We would like to bring it forward as much as possible. As I said previously, I would like to keep this issue separate from that of the relocation of Futenma, and to strive to ensure that the return can take place in an integrated manner as soon as possible, returning the areas that can be returned, thereby alleviating the burden on Okinawa.

Question:
As Minister, do you really feel that the return of this area will be perceived as alleviating the burden on the people of Okinawa?

Minister:
No, it has only just begun, and I think that people will only truly understand this in due course, as the pace of the return of land speeds up; what is important is for people to realize that the returned land is actually contributing to regional development in such-and-such a way, so although we have only just made a start, I believe that the fact that we have been able to begin six months earlier than planned is really significant.

Question:
Before the current agreement, I believe there was an agreement about the north access road to the Makiminato Service Area; what are the prospects right now for the timing of its return?

Minister:
I believe that this is another matter that will involve coordination with the local community. At any rate, the feeling of Okinawa is that, once it has been returned, they want to deal with the situation after properly settling the question of what the land will be used for, and we too want to aim for a return based on proper consent and agreement on the part of the local community, rather than just handing it back.

Question:
This does not relate to the consolidation plan, but with regard to the Ospreys, there have been reports in the media that the MOD has approached the U.S. Forces Japan about conducting joint training on the mainland using Ospreys. Could you please tell us the facts about this?

Minister:
We believe that relocating training to the mainland is, of course, an important part of alleviating the burden on Okinawa, so we are talking to the U.S. about this. I believe that we are talking to our counterparts about training involving both Japan and the U.S. as part of this process of relocation. However, it is not the case that we are focusing exclusively on this matter in our discussions; I believe that we are talking about relocating the Ospreys to the mainland in a broad sense and wanting to develop a plan for this as soon as possible, and that when we do this, there are likely to be joint exercises involving both Japan and the U.S. That is the kind of level that the talks are at.

Question:
Can you be specific about where this will take place?

Minister:
We have not yet decided.

Question:
What kind of form do you envisage this joint training using the Ospreys taking?

Minister:
I believe that training using the Ospreys is actually taking place right now, as part of Dawn Blitz. This is not focused specifically on the Ospreys, but I believe that it is only to be expected that Ospreys will participate, as part of efforts by Japan and the U.S. to improve various skills.

Question:
Moving on to another topic, live-fire training has been relocated from Okinawa Prefecture, where it used to take place across a prefectural road, to Yausubetsu Maneuver Area in Hokkaido, and there has been an incident in which a high explosive shell fired by the U.S. Marine Corps landed outside the training ground. When asked about the reason, the Marine Corps explained that it was a simple error on the part of a marine, but what do you think about accidents in which even a simple error could impact upon human life?

Minister:
Although it was described as a simple error, I believe that it was the kind of mistake that should not occur, so I am taking it very seriously and have made it abundantly clear to the relevant people on the U.S. side that I want them to take proper steps to ensure that it does not happen again. In addition, even as I speak, staff members from the MOD are, along with their U.S. counterparts, visiting the local authorities affected to explain the situation to them.

Question:
In the explanations to those local authorities today, the Hokkaido Defense Bureau or the Marine Corps are sounding them out about resuming training. I believe that the MOD is in the position of seeking the understanding of the local community, but I would like to ask about the timetable and conditions for the resumption of training.

Minister:
At the moment, we are just at the stage of explaining the situation to the local community, and I do not believe that a timetable or conditions for this have been determined as yet.

Question:
Do you think that it would be a good idea to resume training if measures to prevent recurrence were put in place?

Minister:
In any case, they are in the middle of explaining the situation to the local community right now, so I intend to get a proper report once these explanations have been completed.

(End)

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