Saturday, June 19, 2010

Not Just in Okinawa—Expanding Iwakuni Marine Station on Mainland Japan into the Biggest Air Base in East Asia

On May 5th, the US Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station held an annual event called "Friendship Day for US-Japan amity exchange." 265,000 citizens came to watch acrobatic flights by both the US and Japanese jet fighters above and around a newly constructed runway.

Peace Link Iwakuni, a grassroots group, demonstrated for 24th time—along with Rim Peace Iwakuni. This video from Yamaguchi Broadcasting Station covers the protest.

The expansion of the Iwakuni base began at the same time as the proposed move of the Futenma Marine Base to Henoko, Okinawa—14 years ago. The ostensible reasons were the same: the reduction of noise pollution and possible jet crashes. But the real reason for the relocation was to move runways offshore. Though uncompleted, the total cost for this project is¥250 billion and an additional budget of ¥91,8 billion for a hangar has been appropriated in the annual "Sympathy Budget (for the US stationed forces )." Japanese taxpayers are paying for all the costs of this sympathy towards the U.S. military.

After completion in 4 years, 59 jet fighters, which are currently based in Atsugi Naval Air Facility in Kanagawa, will move to the Iwakuni Base. This will double the base's size, making it the biggest air base in Far East Asia.

Along with the relocation of jet fighters, about 4,000 people (1,900 military personnels and the families) will move from Atsugi to Iwakuni. For their housing, a budget of ¥19.9 billion has been alloted along with the construction costs.

Most of the citizens seemed to enjoy the jet acrobatic event (more FA-18 Super Hornets were seen than usual) without any awareness of the ongoing base expansion. However, opposition camapign groups handed out over 2,000 flyers to passers-by in just 20 minutes. These groups entered the base with some highschool students for on a "Peace Education" tour.

Japan's new administration ran on the platform of the review of the U.S. relocation issue during last general election, but the relocation and expansion plan is being carried out as if there had been no such election promise.

On May 23rd, the Iwakuni Great Rally, grassroots group will hold the Iwakuni Great Rally opposing this US base expansion on May 23rd.

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