Ministry tells island town it will host SDF base and US drills

NISHINOOMOTE, Kagoshima Prefecture—The Defense Ministry announced it would build a Self-Defense Force base here to be used for displaced US military exercises, prompting a stunned reaction from the city’s mayor.

“The government has decided to choose Mageshima Island not as a candidate site but as an official site for the construction of the SDF base,” a ministry official told Nishinomote Mayor Shunsuke Yaita at the government office of Nishinomote. the city on January 12.

The SDF facility on Mageshima Island will be used as a new training site for US carrier-based aircraft that currently use Iwoto Island, also known as Iwojima, for practices. landing.

“We thought an (environmental impact) assessment was going on to decide whether to build (the base),” Yaita said. “It’s an abrupt decision.”

A Defense Ministry official explained the haste behind the decision.

“It’s a race against time when it comes to national security,” the official said. “We must build the SDF facility on the island as soon as possible to strengthen our country’s defense capabilities and the Japan-US alliance.”

Late last year, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet approved the government‘s draft budget for the fiscal year 2022 with 318.3 billion yen ($2.78 billion) earmarked for the construction of the basis, including the costs for subsequent years.

During the “two plus two” security talks between Japan and the United States on January 7, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi expressed the government’s determination to build the base quickly. The US side welcomed this decision.

Mageshima Island had been a prime candidate site for displaced US military landing practices since the two plus two security talks in 2011.

Japan and the United States claimed that the island would be the official site of a new base for landing practices.

The Ministry of Defense had repeatedly stressed the importance of gaining the “understanding and cooperation of locals” for the plan. But he essentially ignored Yaita’s calls to halt the project for an environmental assessment.

Last November, the ministry announced that it would solicit bids for the construction of a cement plant on the island of Mageshima. It also this month began building a road along the outer perimeter of the island, saying the work is not targeted for environmental assessment.

Nishinomote residents in favor of the grassroots SDF project feared losing the economic benefits if the opponents prevailed.

The central government will provide grants expected to reach 25 billion yen over a decade to municipalities affected by the realignment of the US military, but it is unlikely to give the grants to those who oppose the project.

The Defense Ministry submitted a draft construction plan on Tanegashima Island, near Mageshima Island, for the project late last year. The plan showed that SDF facilities would be built in the towns of Nakatane and Minamitane, both of which actually approved the relocation plan.

“It’s a blatant attempt to cut Nishinomote out of the loop,” said a member of the town assembly supporting the project.

Nishinomote’s jurisdiction also covers part of Tanegashima Island.

The Ministry’s carrot and stick approach has placed Yaita in a difficult position.

A local Chamber of Commerce and Industry source who supports the plan said the city would only have the burden of hosting the new base if it continued its futile efforts to oppose the plan.

Yaita did not strongly protest the ministry’s decision during his Jan. 12 meeting with ministry officials. The mayor expressed his displeasure only to reporters, saying the ministry was “leaving local residents behind”.

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