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Japan to buy island in southwest for U.S. military drills, new SDF base

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Staff Writer |
Yoshihide Suga
Asia   Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga

The Japanese government said Wednesday an uninhabited island in the southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima will be purchased by March to be used by Japanese forces, as well as for U.S. military aircraft to practice carrier landings.

Japan's top government spokesperson told a press briefing on the matter Wednesday that along with U.S. military drills to be held on Mage Island, located 12 km west of Kagoshima's Tanegashima Island, the government is also mulling the use of the island for Japan's Self-Defense Forces' (SDF) operations.

"We will work to build a permanent facility on the island as soon as possible," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

The government's plan to build a new SDF base on the island has been met with staunch criticism from residents of neighboring Tanegashima Island, who have voiced their concern about the potential for military-linked accidents and noise pollution.

Shunsuke Yaita, mayor of Nishinoomote, a city on the island of Tanegashima, is opposed to the central government's plans. He said the city will continue with discussions on alternative ways Mage Island could be utilized.

"Even if the acquisition is completed, we will keep discussing how to utilize Mage Island and make proposals to the government," Yaita was quoted as saying of the island, which spans 8.2 square km and has a circumference of 16.5 km.

Drills by the accident-prone tilt-rotor Ospreys based at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, may be transferred to Mage, the government here has intimated, along with the construction of a new SDF facility.

This has added to the concerns of Tanegashima residents who are cognizant of the checkered safety history of the plane, which can take off and land like a helicopter and fly like a fixed-winged aircraft.

In August 2017, a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey made an emergency landing in Japan's Oita Prefecture on the eastern coast of Kyushu, and another Osprey made a crash-landing off Nago in Okinawa in December 2016.

The government's negotiations with the island's majority land owner, a development company based in Tokyo, have been protracted following the company initially asking 40 billion yen (367 million U.S. dollars) for the land.

Sources close to the matter have said that the government is close to sealing a deal with the owner to acquire the land on the island for 16 billion yen (146 million U.S. dollars).

The planned acquisition of the island is the result of a U.S. military realignment pact inked between Japan and the U.S. in June 2011.


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