The government may apply early next month for permission from Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima for landfill work required for the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, officials said Saturday.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed at their summit Friday at the White House that the Futenma base will be moved without delay to the Henoko coastal area of Nago from the crowed city of Ginowan, in line with the current bilateral plan.
“A further delay of the facility’s relocation would wear out the patience of the United States,” a senior government official said in Tokyo.
While stopping short of stating a specific timing for filing the application with Nakaima, Abe assured Obama that he would take “concrete action.”
Abe’s administration on Jan. 29 completed all necessary procedures for the environmental assessment necessary to seek permission for the reclamation work.
Earlier last week, Nakaima said the Okinawa Prefectural Government will not block an application by the central government to construct a replacement facility for the Futenma air station at Henoko. However, there are no prospects for the central government actually obtaining Nakaima’s consent to proceed with the landfill.
At a meeting with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Feb. 16, Nakaima reiterated that he has promised his constituents that he will move the Futenma base out of the prefecture as soon as possible.
A senior Defense Ministry official nevertheless said that “an application should be made immediately” to ensure steady progress on the facility’s relocation, which has been stalled for years by local opposition.
Abe is treading carefully on the timing, trying to weigh the security alliance with the United States against a host of domestic issues, several of which pertain to Okinawa, informed sources said.
At Friday’s summit meeting, Abe and Obama also agreed to accelerate efforts for the return to Japan of five sites currently used by the U.S. military south of the U.S. Air Force’s Kadena base on Okinawa Island. The two leaders hope the deal, which would reduce Okinawa’s burden of hosting the bulk of American forces stationed in Japan, will smooth the way for the Futenma base’s relocation, the sources said.
Ever since Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party swept December’s general election, Abe has been trying to build the central government’s relationship with Okinawa after ties were badly dented under the previous administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan.
But the Okinawa government has shown no signs of changing its stance on the Futenma relocation issue.