Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga was finally allowed to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Friday for the first time since he was elected in November, and demanded that Abe stop ongoing work to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the city of Ginowan to Nago, both in Okinawa Prefecture.
Onaga also asked Abe to explain to U.S. President Barack Obama, during their planned summit next month in Washington, that Okinawan people are opposed to the controversial relocation plan.
Abe, who has pledged to strengthen the U.S.-Japan military alliance by promoting the relocation within Okinawa, did not answer Onaga’s request, according to an official who was at the meeting,which was held at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Later in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference he “doesn’t know yet” if Abe will relay the message to Obama.
Abe had long refused to meet Onaga, as Tokyo is promoting the Futenma relocation by building an alternative base in Nago.
Abe met Onaga in an apparent gesture to reduce pressure on him by Okinawans, who harbor strong anti-military sentiment due to memories of fierce ground battles on the island in World War II.
But, as widely expected, Friday’s meeting apparently failed to defuse tensions between Okinawa and Tokyo. Neither Onaga nor Abe made any concessions over their positions regarding the relocation plan.
“The distance (between them) has remained as far apart as ever, but I felt having a discussion is important,” Onaga told reporters after the meeting.
At the outset of their meeting, Abe argued relocating the base to Nago is the only viable solution for Futenma, which is located in the densely populated city of Ginowan, causing nearby residents to worry about the possibility of an aircraft crash.
At the same time Abe emphasized Tokyo will keep implementing various economic projects to help boost the prefecture’s economy.
Onaga, meanwhile, argued previous consent given by former Gov. Keiichi Inamine and Nago Mayor Tateo Kishimoto 16 years ago regarding the relocation are no longer valid, as at the time they attached various conditions to the relocation. Government plans do not reflect these conditions, he argued.
The conditions stipulated that an alternative base should be used both for civilian and military purposes, and that it should be eventually handed over to the prefecture, Onaga pointed out.
Officials in Tokyo argue Japan should maintain the U.S. military’s presence in Okinawa, particularly because of the ongoing territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands, which are situated within the prefecture.
Meanwhile, Onaga called on Tokyo to relocate the base outside the prefecture, a proposal backed by a vast majority of residents in the prefecture.
Later Friday, a senior central government official indicated he believes the meeting was better than nothing.
“The governor remained quite calm during the meeting. The mood was much better” than when Suga visited Okinawa and met Onaga for the first time earlier this month, the official said.