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Gov’t responds differently to U.S. aircraft incidents in Aomori and Okinawa

By Oshiro Daisuke and Ishikawa Ryota


When an F-16 fighter jet affiliated with the U.S. Misawa Airbase jettisoned a couple of fuel tanks in Aomori Prefecture, the Japanese government requested the U.S. military to halt flights by aircraft of the same model until the model’s safety could be confirmed. When a metal water bottle dropped from an MCAS Futenma MV-22 Osprey and landed in front of a private residence, the government didn’t make such a request. In the Aomori incident, the deputy U.S. commander at the Misawa base visited the Aomori Prefectural Office to apologize. In the Okinawa incident, prefectural officials lodged a protest at the air station because senior U.S. Marines officials didn’t respond to the prefecture’s summons. Experts are voicing criticism that there is a double standard in the U.S. military’s and Japanese government’s responses to the two incidents.


“We want [the central government] to fully understand local Okinawan opinion and to lodge a strong protest [with the U.S. military], including requesting a halt to [Osprey] flights,” said Tamari Masahito, who heads the Okinawa Prefecture’s base affairs division, after he had lodged a protest with Neil Owens, director of Marine Corps Installation Pacific (MCIPAC) Government and External Affairs.


Concerning the U.S. military’s failure to respond to Okinawa’s summons, Tamari said: “The U.S. military has come [to the prefectural office] to apologize for incidents it considered significant. I assume it has decided otherwise this time.” 


In the Aomori incident, one of the fuel tanks landed 20 to 30 meters away from a residential area, while the water canister in the Okinawa incident fell right in front of a private residence.


Maedomari Hiromori, professor of security studies at Okinawa International University, says the Japanese government’s dramatically different handling of the two incidents reflects its “terrible double standard.” 


When an incident or accident occurs in Okinawa, the central government and the U.S. military are the target of protests. In incidents and accidents that occur in other prefectures, Maedomari points out, the Japanese government [stands with local governments and] lodges protests with the U.S. military. “The central government stands by local governments that listen to its instructions. It’s apparent that the government does not do that with Okinawa because it doesn’t follow its guidance,” he said.

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