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Onodera, Nakaima discuss U.S. base plan

Kyodo

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera sought support Saturday from Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima for a plan to return a number of U.S. military facilities in the prefecture to Japanese control.

“I believe the plan will contribute to further developing Okinawa,” Onodera told Nakaima in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.

Nakaima responded: “I hope the government will continue making efforts so the facilities and areas will actually be returned.”

The meeting took place a day after Tokyo and Washington agreed that land south of U.S. Kadena Air Base should revert to Japan between the current fiscal year and fiscal 2028, or later.

Under the new bilateral agreement, at least 1,048 hectares of land south of the U.S. Air Force’s Kadena base is supposed to be returned, but more than 90 percent of it is to be reverted only after replacement facilities are provided in Okinawa or marines based in the prefecture relocate outside of Japan.

The land occupied by the U.S. Marine Corps’ contentious Futenma air base could be returned in fiscal 2022 or later. But this time frame is tenuous since it is contingent on moving the facility’s airfield and flight functions to a coastal area elsewhere on Okinawa Island — a plan that has been fiercely opposed by residents for years.

Nakaima told reporters after the meeting that he still expects Tokyo and Washington to transfer the base outside Okinawa, stressing, “I have no intention of changing my stance (on the matter).”

Later Saturday, Onodera also visited Camp Foster in the city of Ginowan.