OSAKA – Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima resisted pressure Tuesday by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to allow the Futenma base relocation to move forward.
But Nakaima, who must decide whether to approve a central government application to begin the necessary landfill work at Henoko in northern Okinawa Island, may find it harder to go against powerful Okinawan corporate lobby groups whose members stand to benefit greatly from Henoko-related contracts.
Along with the central government in Tokyo, they are pushing the governor to approve the new base despite strong political opposition throughout Okinawa.
Following Tuesday’s meeting involving Nakaima, Kishida and Onodera, the first official meeting by the three since December when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power, 10 local business groups met with Kishida in Naha to offer their support for the Henoko plan.
The groups were led by Yukikazu Kokuba, head of Kokuba Gumi Go., Okinawa’s largest general contractor and a major business and political force in the prefecture.
Kokuba heads the Okinawa Defense Association, a group of politicians and businesses that support the U.S. bases, as well as the Naha Chamber of Commerce.
It was in this latter position that Kokuba told Tuesday’s gathering he supported the plan to replace the Futenma base with a planned new airstrip in Henoko, saying that demanding the replacement facility be relocated outside Okinawa would mean no progress on closing Futenma, which is in the crowded city of Ginowan.
However, all 41 Okinawa local governments, including Naha, have officially voiced opposition to the current Henoko plan. On Tuesday, Nakaima once again told the two Cabinet ministers that in terms of speed, a Futenma replacement base outside of Okinawa would be quicker than building the Henoko base.