Kishida set to announce U.S. base park plan, eyeing gubernatorial race

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U.S. Marines and Japanese security guards raise their national colors at Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Jan. 13, 2021. Performing a daily colors ceremony with the host nation symbolizes cooperation and joint effort of forces American and Japanese throughout Japan. . (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher A. Madero) (Cpl. Christopher Madero)

TOKYO — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to announce a plan to turn a residential area of ​​the U.S. Army’s Camp Foster, also known as Camp Zukeran, in central Okinawa Prefecture, into a public space. The announcement would be made at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s return to Japanese sovereignty on May 15.

The base’s Lower Plaza residential area, straddling the city of Okinawa and the village of Kitanakagusuku, could be turned into a public park ahead of the area’s planned return to Japan under an agreement between the Japanese governments and American, which has been discussed for some time.

Ahead of Okinawa’s gubernatorial election slated for September, the Japanese government and ruling parties want the park’s plan to serve as an example of its efforts to reduce the burdens on Okinawans for housing US military bases.

Ceremonies marking the anniversary will be held in Okinawa and Tokyo.

Kishida, who plans to attend the event from Okinawa, is expected to deliver a speech in which he will reveal efforts to reduce the burdens on Okinawans and announce a Japan-US agreement on the joint use of land before surrender.

In 2013, the two governments reached an agreement that the approximately 23-hectare Lower Plaza residential area would be returned to Japan in fiscal year 2024, at the earliest.

The area’s 102 homes for US military personnel are expected to be relocated to other locations in the camp. However, the construction of the new accommodations has been delayed, so the original schedule is not expected to be met.

Demolition of the old buildings in the Lower Plaza area is expected to be completed by February 2023. The Japanese and US governments are coordinating efforts to share the space before the official handover date.

The Japanese Ministry of Defense wants to turn the area into a public park, which would benefit residents, American personnel and their families.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party hopes to retake the prefecture in September’s gubernatorial race.

Government wants to demonstrate efforts to reduce burdens on Okinawans at 50th anniversary ceremony to build momentum ahead of gubernatorial ballot as basic issues are expected to be a major point of contention in campaigns elections.

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