Government may apply to start work on Futenma replacement base before Abe’s U.S. trip

Kyodo

The government may apply next month to bring in earth to fill in a coastal area in Okinawa where a U.S. Marine Corps air base is to be relocated, ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trip to the United States, government sources said Thursday.

Abe, who has criticized the previous government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, for its handling of the stalled base replacement effort, hopes to showcase his new government’s readiness to tackle the issue by proceeding with the planned construction.

The application must be filed with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who has the power to authorize such land filling in publicly owned waters, but the move would most certainly worsen the public opposition in Okinawa to the planned new airbase.

Anger over the concentration of U.S. military installations in Okinawa has risen among local residents following the contentious deployment of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma last year and crimes allegedly involving U.S. service members in the prefecture.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is scheduled to visit the United States on Jan. 18 for a meeting with departing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Once he returns, Abe plans to finalize when to file the application after weighing America’s plans, according to the sources.

Nakaima has made it clear that building the base in the Henoko area in Nago on Okinawa Island, which requires land fill, is virtually impossible due to local opposition. He has instead called for the base to be relocated outside the prefecture.

Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, whose city is expected to host the Futenma replacement base, has also called for relocation outside of the prefecture. Nakaima reportedly plans to reach a conclusion roughly within a year on whether to authorize the reclamation.

Abe plans to obtain acceptance from Okinawa leaders for the land fill work by preparing generous economic packages. In a bid to move the relocation forward at the behest of the prime minister’s office, Abe plans to name Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga the government’s point man on the matter.

Japan and the United States agreed in 2006 to move the Futenma base, located in densely populated Ginowan, to the Henoko area of Nago adjacent to U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab, also on Okinawa Island.

The plan has stalled since the DPJ government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, which was installed in September 2009, unsuccessfully sought to relocate the Futenma base outside the prefecture.

An environmental assessment for the relocation site was effectively completed in December, when the Defense Ministry submitted assessment documents to the Okinawa Prefectural Government. The plan calls for the replacement base’s runways to extend beyond the Henoko peninsula over the sea.