Japan’s Premier: U.S. Base to Stay at Okinawa Due Partly to Korean Tensions

BY Larisa Epatko  May 24, 2010 at 12:20 PM EDT

Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Monday he has given up on efforts to find an alternative location for a controversial U.S. airbase on the island of Okinawa, and that tensions on the Korean peninsula helped him reach his decision.

After searching for a new site in Japan for six months, Hatoyama said he would honor a 2006 agreement with the United States to keep the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa, but move it from its current location in a crowded city to a more remote part of the island, despite strong local opposition.

“I decided that it is of utmost importance that we place the Japan-U.S. relationship on a solid footing of mutual trust, considering the situation on the Korean peninsula and in Asia,” he said, reported The Guardian. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart for the confusion I have caused the people of Okinawa.”

Last week, South Korea released the results from a multinational investigation into the March sinking of one of its naval vessels that concluded it was caused by a North Korean torpedo, ratcheting up tensions in the region.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a visit to Beijing on Monday, praised Hatoyama for making “the difficult but never-the-less correct decision.”

According to a Wall Street Journal article, the negative response to Hatoyama’s decision could further erode public opinion of his eight-month-old government ahead of national elections in July.

More than half the 47,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan are in Okinawa.

On Friday, the NewsHour aired a report by Sonia Narang of GlobalPost about the protests in Japan over the base: