Suga, Onaga hold talks over relocation of U.S.’ Futenma base in Okinawa


Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga failed to bridge their differences over the relocation plan for a contentious U.S. air base Sunday in Naha as the standoff between the central and Okinawa governments continued to roil the prefecture.

The talks are the first between Suga, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s right-hand man, and Onaga since he became governor in December with a pledge to block the plan to build a replacement facility for the base in a coastal area of Nago. The base is currently in the city of Ginowan.

At the meeting, which was partly open to reporters, Suga repeated the central government’s position that the relocation plan is the “only solution” when considering several factors, including Japan’s defense alliance with the United States and the need to alleviate the risk of accidents posed by the existing base.

But Onaga stuck to his guns, saying he was “convinced that the new base in Henoko can never be built.”

“You say we should shoulder (the burden of the base ) because (Futenma) is the most dangerous (one) in the world and its risks need to be removed, all the while causing the people of this prefecture great pain. Just saying that itself shows the decadence of politics in Japan.”

Suga, who doubles as minister in charge of base burden issues in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan, said he hopes to regain the trust of the Okinawa residents by working with the prefectural government, while reducing their hosting duties one step at a time.

In the meantime, Onaga again requested a meeting with Abe, who has snubbed the governor during his many visits to Tokyo since taking the post.

After the roughly one-hour meeting at a hotel in the prefectural capital, Suga tried to cast it in a positive light, telling reporters the occasion marked the “first step” in advancing consultations between the central and prefectural governments.

He also indicated his willingness to consider arranging a meeting between Abe and Onaga, saying he would proceed with the idea while listening to Okinawa’s views.

Onaga told reporters he will not backtrack on the base issue and will continue to engaging the central government on the issue.

“I want them to stop the relocation to Henoko and engage in dialogue.”

The plan to move Futenma to the less populated Henoko district in Nago is part of a broader realignment of the American military presence in Okinawa, which hosts 74 percent of the total acreage of U.S. military facilities in the country.

Tension rose last month when Onaga, who in November’s election defeated the governor who gave the go-ahead to the base relocation plan, ordered the local office of the Defense Ministry to stop undersea preparations for land reclamation work at the relocation site.

The order has since been suspended by fisheries minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, allowing the Okinawa Defense Bureau to continue its work but leaving open the possibility that the central and local governments may eventually contest the matter in court.

Before the talks on Sunday, Suga foresaw difficulties ahead, telling reporters Thursday in Tokyo. “I don’t think a single round of talks will solve the problem,” Suga said.

  • Tomamii

    Abe’s-boy Suga on façade mission (acting like really listening to Okinawa’s governor on Henoko’s issue), more PR then a honest move from the Govt. but I guess we all didnt expect more…

  • Facebook User

    As a US citizen all I can say is never trust the US military or government! How many years have they been raping the people on there?
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  • Liars N. Fools

    Onaga will ultimately lose this dispute. That is not because he is not morally right but because Japanese law gives the cabinet the power, with the local government having very little authority.

    I reiterate a basic truth. Okinawans have long been sacrificed on the altar of the U.S.-Japan alliance, and this instance is just the latest. There are 52 airports for 47 prefectures in Japan, almost all in good enough shape to be transferred to U.S. Military use after some refurbishment at much less expense than in Henoko.

    The view among many Ametican military commanders that Okinawa somehow naturally is suited to be the main bases for USFJ combines with cynical NIMBYism of main island Japanese, buttressed by a long line of LDP governments which wanted to limit the Americans to as far away as possible from main islands Japan.

  • Terry “Death to Equality” Xu

    There is no need for a base anyway, nothing threatens Japan sufficiently to warrant one – and even if something did, Japan should be responsible for its own defense

  • tisho

    The people of Okinawa need to understand that, until a US lapdog like LDP gets elected, the bases are not going anywhere, they will stay there because of US interests in the region. If they want the bases out, they better make sure someone like Ozawa or Hatoyama gets elected into power. Someone who actually understands that Japan is a vessel state of the US and someone who has the balls to stand up for independence. Last time Hatoyama tried that it didn’t end up well.