US could dispatch Osprey to disputed islands

Published: 4:02 AM, September 19, 2013
Updated: 11:20 PM, September 19, 2013

The United States has said that it could dispatch the MV-22 Osprey aircraft, based at the Futenma Air Station in Okinawa, Japan, to the disputed islands in the East China Sea, if needed.

The “aircraft has the ability to reach the Senkakus, should we need to support any sort of Japan-US security treaty”, Lieutenant-General John Wissler, the commanding general of the US marines in Okinawa, was quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency.

He added that the tilt-rotor Ospreys can quickly reach high altitudes due to their speed and create less noise pollution than other aircraft.

He was speaking to Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima during a meeting on Tuesday that was open to the media.

His comment was said to reflect the recent increased activity by China around the islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese in the East China Sea.

Ties between China and Japan have been strained over the uninhabited islands, controlled by Japan but claimed by both countries. A year ago, the Japanese government bought three of the islands from a private owner, inflaming anger and setting off big anti-Japan protests in China.

Aircraft and ships from the two countries have played cat-and-mouse in the vicinity of the islands ever since, raising fears of conflict.

Mr Nakaima did not respond directly to Lt-Gen Wissler’s proposal but he reiterated his opposition to stationing Ospreys at Futenma, saying the “citizens’ concerns have not been cleared up”.

Okinawa residents have long resented bearing what many feel is an unfair share of the burden for the US-Japan military alliance.

About half of the 50,000 US troops in the country are based on Okinawa under a Japan-US security pact.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to move the US marines from Futenma to a less crowded part of the island, but stiff opposition from Okinawa residents is stalling the plan. Many have complained about base-related crime, noise and accidents. AGENCIES