Japan buys an ISLAND for the US to run noisy jet landing drills – but faces local opposition
Tokyo is shelling out $150 million to enable US pilots practice aircraft carrier landings on a small eastern island, but people living nearby are less than happy with the deal – which they were never given a chance to debate.
The US and Japanese governments have been interested in Mageshima Island as a new site to run the training exercises, known as field carrier landing practices, since 2011, but have only recently been able to seal the deal. The uninhabited 8km-square island is part of the Ōsumi archipelago in the East China Sea. While the island is administered by the city of Nishinoomote on nearby Tanegashima island, it is owned by a Tokyo-based development company, which the government negotiated with.
These aren’t the first such American drills, which involve fighter jets taking off and landing on a strip of land made to resemble an aircraft carrier, that have caused resistance of the Japanese. The drills were originally held at the Atsugi naval base in the Kanagawa Prefecture, but the sound of jet-powered aircraft taking off repeatedly caused so many complaints they were eventually forced to move.
Iwo Jima Island, which is incidentally the site of one the bloodiest battles between Japan and the US during the Second World War, has been used to conduct the drills since 1991, but the US considers the base too far away from an alternative landing site in the event of emergency weather conditions.
The new site is conveniently located just over seven miles from Nishinoomote. However, it appears that neither the US military nor Tokyo bothered to ask the opinions of the locals, who say they have been given little information about the deal.
“So far there has been absolutely no explanation in town; we know nothing about the specific details of the arrangement…various concerns such as noise should be considered, and I worry that there will be further expansion later,” said local city council representative Hiromi Nagano, who opposes the transfer.
The city’s mayor, Shunsuke Yaita, also released a statement on the issue, stating that he believes there are “more suitable ways” to use the island.
US military presence in Japan remains an awkward point in relations between the allies, with the air and marine base in Okinawa probably being the most well-known sore-spot. Other than being a sensitive historic site where some 200,000 Japanese were killed, including 94,000 civilians, high-profile scandals such as rapes by US military personnel have heated local opposition and protest, to the point that authorities now want the base gone.
There are currently around 50,000 US troops stationed in Japan, based on a post-World War II security pact that has turned the country into a key foothold for the US military in the Pacific.
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