U.S. senator backs existing plan to relocate Futenma base

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin said Friday he backs the existing plan to relocate a U.S. Marine base within Japan's Okinawa Prefecture, which has been strongly opposed by local residents.

The chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in an interview with Kyodo News that he intends to support the arrangements on the transfer of the Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station that are made by the governments of Japan and the United States.

His stance contrasts with the position of his predecessor Jim Webb, who called for reviewing the long-stalled Futenma relocation plan together with Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee. Webb retired as a U.S. senator earlier this year.

Cardin, who became the subcommittee chairman in February, said the current plan to move the Futenma base from a densely populated residential area to a less populated coastal zone on the main island of Okinawa was "well received" by the people of both countries.

"I'm not aware of any modification to that agreement," he said. "We're moving forward with the implementation" of the relocation plan.

Cardin said he will "certainly consult with Senator Levin and get his views" on the transfer of the Marine facility, but that he believes the issue "needs to be handled through the governments" of the two countries.

On recent remarks by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto urging U.S. forces to use Japan's legal adult entertainment industry to prevent the recurrence of sex offenses in Okinawa, Cardin said they are "so outrageous" and "need to be condemned."

"It goes beyond what is basic human dignity...and the person who made those comments needs to be looked at as to why they would say something like that," he said.

But Cardin said he does not think Hashimoto's comments will negatively affect the Japan-U.S. relationship, saying, "I don't think the United States takes it personal to our country."

The outspoken mayor, who co-heads the opposition Japan Restoration Party, apologized Monday to the U.S. military and retracted such comments.

As for deteriorating ties between Japan and South Korea, allies of the United States, over issues related to history, such as the so-called "comfort women" who provided sexual services to the Japanese military during World War II, Cardin said the plight of such women including many Koreans "needs to be told and cannot be denied."

The U.S. lawmaker also urged both Japan and South Korea to "avoid provocative circumstances" and "don't try to put a spotlight on the differences."