New defense minister Naoki Tanaka voiced hope Sunday that work on moving U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture can begin by the end of the year, with the consent of the local community.
“Whether we can begin the construction within this year has been a focus of the procedures for the time being, but we cannot move the project forward without the acceptance of the people of Okinawa,” Tanaka said on an NHK program.
Tanaka is the first senior government official to mention a time frame for starting construction work on the project. Tanaka took up the his new post after a Cabinet reshuffle Friday.
Tanaka hinted that failure to start relocation within the year could force Japan and the United States to review their bilateral agreement on the relocation project.
“If the plan doesn’t proceed, the United States would be pressed to review it,” he said.
Tanaka said he wants to meet with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima before the year’s first Diet session, which opens on Jan. 24.
He said that since Futenma is “the most dangerous military base in the world, I want to seek a breakthrough soon” in closing the gap with Okinawa on the issue.
The base, situated in a densely populated area in Ginowan, is to be moved to the Henoko district, a coastal area near Nago further north on Okinawa Island.
The U.S. is strongly urging Japan to follow through on the base relocation agreement, Tanaka said, referring to a U.S. defense strategy plan unveiled earlier this month.
“Japan’s politics will lose the world’s confidence unless we deal with this matter properly,” Tanaka said.
The government submitted an environmental impact assessment report to the prefectural government last month as a legal step for gaining the governor’s consent to begin construction of the relocation site in Nago.
But Nakaima has strongly asked the government to remove the base from Okinawa.