Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he plans to hold talks Sunday with Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga in a bid to defuse tensions between the central and local governments over the planned relocation of a U.S. air base within the island prefecture.
It will be the first meeting between Suga, who doubles as minister in charge of reducing the burden on Okinawa from hosting the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan, and Onaga since the latter became governor in December.
The move comes as the central and Okinawa governments are at odds over the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in the residential neighborhood of Ginowan, to the less populated Henoko coastal area in Nago, both in Okinawa.
Tensions have risen since the central government on Monday suspended Onaga’s order to a Defense Ministry branch in Okinawa to halt work at the relocation site.
“I’d like to have a frank exchange of views” with Onaga, Suga told a news conference. But he added, he does not think “a single round of talks will solve the problem.”
Suga plans to visit Okinawa on Saturday and Sunday, according to a government source.
Onaga won the Okinawa gubernatorial election last November after vowing to block the relocation plan, beating then Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima who had approved landfill work for the relocation.
Suga also said he plans to attend a ceremony on Saturday for the return to Japan by the U.S. military of the West Futenma Housing Area in Ginowan. The area encompasses 51 hectares, or 11 times the size of Tokyo Dome.
This will be the second such return of land by the U.S. under a 2013 agreement to reduce the prefecture’s burden from hosting U.S. military bases.
Speaking to reporters in Naha on Wednesday, Onaga said he is ready to meet with Suga and that he wants the top government spokesman to hear Okinawa public opinion.
Onaga is expected to tell Suga that relocating the Futenma base within Okinawa Prefecture will not solve the problem, and that he wants Japan as a whole to share the burden of hosting U.S. military installations in the country.
Okinawa hosts 74 percent of such installations in Japan.