Japan plans joint use of U.S. military camp area in Okinawa before handover

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Lower Plaza Housing area of the U.S. military’s Camp Foster, also known as Camp Zukeran, in Okinawa Prefecture

Tokyo and Washington have begun efforts to reach an agreement at a Japan-U.S. joint committee as early as next summer on joint use of a part of the U.S. military’s Camp Foster, also known as Camp Zukeran, in central Okinawa Prefecture, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Ahead of the Okinawa gubernatorial election scheduled for next autumn, the Japanese government aims to steadily reduce Okinawa’s burden of hosting U.S. military bases.

According to government sources, the two countries plan to jointly use about 23 hectares of the Lower Plaza Housing area, which straddles the border of Okinawa City and the village of Kitanakagusuku. Before returning the area to Japan, 102 housing units must be relocated, so the construction of new housing is proceeding elsewhere in the camp.

In 2013, the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed on the return of the area in or after fiscal 2024. However, construction work has been delayed, and the new housing is not expected to be completed by that fiscal year. As a result, the parties have come to share the opinion that it would be difficult to return the land as initially scheduled.

Planning for the demolition of old houses in the area has been in progress since July 2021, and the demolition work period is expected to be until February 2023.

After it is completed, the land will be cleared, and Japan’s Defense Ministry is planning to build a park there, even before the handover. If the park is used by both local residents and U.S. military personnel and their families, it will be beneficial for both sides. The two governments thus hope to reach an agreement on joint use of the land ahead of the handover.

In Okinawa Prefecture, several important elections are scheduled for 2022. The Okinawa mayoral election will be held in April, followed in autumn by the Okinawa gubernatorial and Ginowan mayoral elections. These elections are expected to affect plans to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station from Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture.

By proceeding with the joint use plan, the Japanese government hopes to show the people of Okinawa tangible achievements in reducing the burden of hosting U.S. military bases.