New Defense Minister Akinori Eto said Monday the ministry will make every effort to achieve the “earliest possible” relocation of the Futenma base to the proposed site further north on Okinawa Island.
“We have to avoid keeping the (U.S. Marine Corps) Air Station Futenma in the center of Ginowan, which is densely packed with houses and schools,” Eto, 58, said in a group interview at the Defense Ministry. “Though we are fully aware of the various opinions among the local public, the only solution to avoid continuous use of the Futenma air station is its relocation to (the shores of) Camp Schwab” in the city of Nago.
Eto stressed that the ministry will be tenacious in explaining the significance and benefits of the relocation to Okinawa’s residents.
Eto’s remarks came a day after candidates opposing the relocation plan held on to their majority in the Nago Municipal Assembly. After Sunday’s election, opponents hold 16 seats in the 27-member assembly.
“As a Cabinet minister, I prefer not to comment on the results of a local election,” Eto responded when asked about the Nago election.
The Defense Ministry began a drilling survey off the Nago coast in August to obtain geological data in preparation for landfill that will someday be the site of the replacement air station.
Eto concurrently serves as security legislation minister. The post was created in the Cabinet reshuffle last week. Eto is tasked with steering the necessary legal revisions through the Diet to allow Japan the right to exercise collective self-defense.
He said the legal system will be changed to enable a response to any contingency in a “seamless” manner.
“The security environment surrounding Japan is growing increasingly severe,” he said. “It is very important to boost deterrence to secure our country’s peace and security.”
Eto stressed that he will work hard to build public support for the Abe administration’s proposed legal changes.
The Cabinet officially decided in July to reinterpret the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense.
As for planned revisions of the bilateral defense cooperation guidelines by the end of this year, Eto said the ministry will accelerate talks with the United States in light of progress with the security legislation.
The revisions will include extending the range of cooperation between the two countries to such fields as terrorism and piracy, according to Eto.
The guidelines, originally drawn up in 1978 during the Cold War under the premise that Japan could face a Soviet attack, stipulate defense cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military.
Eto, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker from Aomori Prefecture, served as parliamentary senior vice defense minister from 2007 to 2008 and was chairman of the Lower House Security Committee before taking up the Cabinet post.