Photo/IllutrationFormer U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry talks about U.S. military bases in Okinawa during an interview with The Asahi Shimbun and local papers in Naha on Sept. 13. (Go Katono)

NAHA--Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry said Japanese politics, not military strategy, was behind the decision to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture.

“The question of relocating is not a military question. It’s not a security question,” Perry, 89, said in an interview here with The Asahi Shimbun and Okinawa newspapers on Sept. 13. “It had not to do with the mission (of defending Japan). It’s a political question and economic question.”

He also said Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost prefecture, which hosts about 70 percent of U.S. military facilities in Japan, is not geographically indispensable in terms of defending against security threats from North Korea.

“The mission of deterrence of North Korea, for example, could be met in many different locations in Japan. There is nothing special about the geographical position of Okinawa,” he said.

Perry played a central role in the agreement reached between Tokyo and Washington in 1996 for the return to Japan of land used by the Futenma air base in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture.

One condition of the agreement was that a facility be built in the prefecture to take over the functions of the Futenma air station.

Perry, who was U.S. defense secretary from 1994 to 1997 during the first Clinton administration, said then Okinawa Governor Masahide Ota expressed dissatisfaction with the condition during their talks.

He said he tried to bring the governor’s ideas to the negotiating table.

“The solution we arrived at was not a solution that satisfied Governor Ota,” he said. “But it was a solution, I think you would agree, that would be better than what we have.”

Japan and the United States agreed that the replacement facility would be set up in the Henoko district of Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture.

Residents from Okinawa Prefecture have constantly held protests over the relocation plan. The current governor, Takeshi Onaga, has taken legal action against the central government in an attempt to prevent construction of the new base.

The central government has resumed work at the site, saying the new base is vital for Japan’s security.

Perry acknowledged that U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa have a mission to protect Japan.

“But that mission could be met at other locations. It did not have to be met at Futenma. It did not have to be met at bases in Okinawa,” he said.

On the delay in carrying out the return of Futenma, Perry apologized for not implementing the agreement because “the problems only get worse each year.”

He added that the relocation issue is something that the Japanese public and the Japanese government--not the United States--must sort out.

Perry’s trip to Okinawa, including visits to the Futenma base and Henoko, was his first in 21 years.

(This article was written by Go Katono and Tsukasa Kimura)