Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano on Friday denied reports that the government has abandoned a plan to partially relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to White Beach in eastern Okinawa Island, claiming such a proposal was never officially made in the first place.
Media reports said Hirano, who heads a panel on the relocation issue, shared a plan with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima earlier this month to build an artificial island and move some of Futenma’s facilities to the area off White Beach and the Katsuren Peninsula. But the government reportedly gave up on the idea due to opposition from local residents.
“I’m not aware of what it is you are talking about,” Hirano told reporters Friday after being asked to confirm the reports. “I haven’t spoken of a specific site with the governor. We talked about how the media are reporting some options, but never discussed any official plan of the government.”
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan and its coalition partners have agreed to modify the existing plan based on the 2006 bilateral accord on Futenma’s relocation, which would have moved the facilities to Camp Schwab’s Henoko coast in Nago, also on Okinawa Island. But while Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has pledged to resolve the contentious issue by the end of May, his administration has yet to reveal specific relocation sites.
The government was reportedly leaning toward a plan to split up the Futenma base’s operations to Camp Schwab and to Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture and build an artificial island at White Beach. The proposal included the construction of heliports and two 3,600-meter runways to accommodate the U.S. Marine Corps aircraft.
Hirano refused to comment on whether relocation to White Beach was ever considered an option by the government. But with the plan hitting the rocks, Hatoyama will have a difficult time meeting the deadline, which even DPJ members admit could lead to him stepping down as prime minister.
After acknowledging the relocation issue as his most difficult task, Hatoyama told reporters Friday the government “will definitely resolve this issue” and the public can rest assured.