NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda made his first visit to Okinawa Prefecture as head of the government Sunday in a bid to persuade residents to back the long-stalled plan for moving a contentious U.S. air base within the prefecture.
During his two-day trip, Noda will speak Monday with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and view U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which the government is trying to shift from the crowded city of Ginowan to less populated Henoko, a coastal area further north in Nago.
Noda, who assumed office in September, is expected to seek Nakaima’s backing for the relocation plan and tell him the government will try its utmost to make it easier for Okinawa to host the bulk of U.S. military forces in Japan.
But the local residents oppose the plan and want the base removed from the prefecture.
The prime minister will also brief Nakaima on the negotiations Tokyo and Washington have conducted so far on reviewing the realignment plan for U.S. forces in Japan, including a plan to redeploy thousands of U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa to Guam.
Japan and the United States agreed this month to adjust the 2006 accord by delinking the base transfer issue from the plan to move the marines to Guam.
Until then, the relocation of the base was a precondition for transferring around 8,000 marines and their dependents out of Okinawa to Guam.
Noda’s trip comes about a week after Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka flew to Okinawa and met with Nakaima.
Nakaima, who has repeatedly called for kicking the base out of Okinawa, submitted last Monday to the Defense Ministry his opinion on the Futenma issue. In it, he said it would be “impossible” to protect the environment around the envisaged relocation site under the current plan.