U.S. to Give Back Okinawa Air Base to Japan

Mike O'Brien

The U.S. announced an agreement on Friday to hand back the air base in Okinawa to Japan.

If another location on the southern Japanese island can be found, the U.S. Marines' Futenma air base could be in Japanese hands as early as 2022.

The deal includes the return of other U.S.facilities on the island. The Futenma air base, however, is the most significant because of the controversy surrounding it.

Relations with the U.S. were strained in 2009 when the then-Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama tried to eliminate the base.

Despite his campaign, and opposition to the base from local residents, the base remained because the Janapese government could not find an alternative site.

Okinawa, which was occupied by the United States from 1945-72, accounts for less than one percent of Japan's total land, but three-quarters of all U.S. military facilities in the country are situated there.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday’s agreement showed the new solidarity between the two countries in the light of hostilities close by.

He said: "With the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region getting tougher, I'm glad that we were able to show that the bond of trust in the Japan-U.S. alliance is not wavering at all."

The deal comes at a time the U.S. is diverting its economic, diplomatic and security focus to Asia-Pacific.

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said: "Now more than ever it is essential that the United States maintain a geographically distributed and sustainable force throughout Asia that can provide for the protection of Japan and our other allies, and U.S. interests.

"We are resolved to focus our bilateral efforts on modernizing the alliance to meet emerging security challenges."

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