Japan and the United States were to reach a final agreement Friday on plans to return some of the land south of the U.S. Kadena Air Base on Okinawa now used by the U.S. military, a Japanese government source said Thursday.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos were expected to sign off on the plans, which concern five U.S. military facilities and areas on Okinawa Island, after their meeting at the prime minister’s office late Friday afternoon.
Japan and the United States also aim to specify in the plans when U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan will be closed and its operations relocated to a new airstrip slated to be built in a coastal area in Nago, farther north on the island, the source said.
The plans are part of efforts to ease the burden on Okinawa, which has long hosted the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan, and to increase the chance of Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approving the central government’s request to reclaim land needed to build the new Nago base, whose planned runways will extend offshore.
Nakaima has resisted the proposed base replacement within Okinawa amid strong local opposition.
Among those expected to attend Friday’s meeting are Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and a senior official of the U.S. Forces Japan, the source said. Tokyo is expected to announce concrete plans afterward.
Although Onodera intends to visit Okinawa and meet with Nakaima on Saturday to seek local acceptance of the plans, it is by no means certain Tokyo can win Okinawa over.
Japanese and U.S. officials have been working to return land south of the Kadena base long used by the U.S. military, by dividing it into 13 sections.
Japan and the United States plan to stipulate where and when most of the more than 570 hectares would be returned, either once replacement facilities are provided in Okinawa or as marine elements are relocated outside of Japan.
The language on the timing may not be clear-cut, given the possibility that the land handover may not proceed according to the plans, the source said. The two governments are considering stipulating that the replacement base for Futenma be operational “in nine years,” provided progress is made in the plan.
Although Japan and the United States have agreed to specify a time frame for the base replacement in the forthcoming plans, they are still working out differences over how it should read, according to a Japanese source.
Under a bilateral agreement reached between Japan and the United States last April, the process of returning the facilities and areas south of Kadena was delinked from progress on the Futenma replacement.
But the two governments ran into difficulties nailing down when the lands would be returned amid the delay in shifting marine elements out of Okinawa, and due to the change of government in Tokyo in December after the general election.
The five facilities and areas include Camp Zukeran, the Makiminato Service Area, Camp Kuwae, Naha port and Kuwae Tank Farm No. 1.