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Japan buys island for US aircraft exercises

By WANG XU in Tokyo | China Daily | Updated: 2019-12-04 10:01

Photo taken in Oct 2018 shows Mage Island in Nihsinoomote in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan. [Photo/VCG]

The Japanese government has completed the 16 billion yen ($146 million) purchase of an uninhabited island in the southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima to be used by US military aircraft to practice carrier takeoffs and landings.

The 8-square-kilometer island, which is also known as Mage Island, is part of the Osumi Islands and was used as an important airfield for the Imperial Japanese Army when defending Okinawa in the closing stages of World War II.

Japan's top government spokesman told a news conference on Monday that the government plans to build a permanent facility for US carrier-borne fighters to practice takeoffs and landings on Mage Island.

"It's important to secure the site for field carrier landing practice from the viewpoint of security, so we will continue to try to build a permanent facility at an early date," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said of the agreement, which was reached on Friday.

The US military used to conduct takeoff and landing practice at its Atsugi Base near Tokyo but the training site was moved to Iwoto Island in the 1990s on a temporary basis due to complaints about noise.

The fighters were all transferred from Atsugi to another US military base in Iwakuni, western Japan, last year, making the flight to the island even longer. As a result, the United States asked Japan to prepare a more convenient and permanent location for the drill and the Japanese government has been searching for a suitable location since it agreed in 2011 to provide a new site for US forces.

US aircraft are not allowed to carry out flight practice at bases on mainland Japan due to noise pollution complaints, which means aircraft from the US airbase at Iwakuni in central Japan must fly about 1,400 km south to Iwoto. In contrast, Mage Island is about 400 km from Iwakuni, making it an ideal site.

The government is making the acquisition from a Tokyo-based development company that owns most of the island.

Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda hailed the central government's announcement as a "big step forward".

"Building a permanent training facility is necessary to reduce worries among local people (in Iwakuni). We'd like to ask the government to have the facility completed early," Fukuda said in a statement.

Xinhua and Kyodo contributed to this story.

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