Abe to stick to Futenma script, keep base in Okinawa

Kyodo

The presumptive prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said Friday he will try to gain local support for a plan to replace a key U.S. base in Okinawa while upholding Tokyo’s accord with Washington over the transfer.

Abe, who heads the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, said at a news conference at the Yamaguchi Prefectural Government that he wants to “make efforts toward seeking the consent of the local community” for moving U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Henoko area in Nago, farther north on Okinawa Island from its current location in the city of Ginowan.

Abe’s remarks signal that his incoming government, despite local resistance, will pursue the existing plan to move shift Futenma’s operations to the Henoko coast adjoining Camp Schwab.

Abe, who was prime minister from September 2006 to September 2007, criticized the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan for complicating the already thorny Futenma issue. The DPJ took power in 2009, ending more than 50 years of almost continuous rule by the LDP at that time.

Abe, the current LDP chief, was referring to how former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of the DPJ once raised local expectations with a promise to remove the base from Okinawa. He stepped down in 2010 after coming under fire for breaking the promise.

“Because of the confusion caused by the DPJ-led administration, (the people of) Okinawa were betrayed,” Abe said, adding that when he was prime minister, his administration stuck to the existing relocation plan.

Abe, who is visiting his constituency in Yamaguchi for the first time since his party’s landslide victory in Sunday’s Lower House election, also asked other areas to bear the load of hosting U.S. bases.

The LDP chief said he wants support from various communities to “ease Okinawa’s burden while maintaining deterrence.”

The plan to replace Futenma with a new airstrip in Okinawa has long been a source of tension between the central government and local residents, who want the base to move out of Okinawa, home to the bulk of the U.S. military installations in Japan.