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Government holds first dialogue council meeting with Okinawa

JIJI

Representatives of the central and Okinawa prefectural governments met Thursday to discuss ways to promote the development of the island and reduce its burden of hosting U.S. bases.

The meeting, the first by a new council comprising members from each government, was held at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo.

It comes at a time when the central and prefectural governments are at odds over the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area in Nago.

The central government is hoping to find common ground through the resumption of a dialogue.

The four concerned Cabinet members representing Tokyo were Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and Aiko Shimajiri, minister in charge of Okinawa affairs.

From Okinawa, Gov. Takeshi Onaga and Vice Gov. Mitsuo Ageda took part in the meeting.

During the talks, the Okinawa side sought the early completion of a project to construct the second runway at Naha Airport in the Okinawa capital. In response, Tokyo showed its readiness to steadily promote the project.

Referring to the base relocation issue, Onaga said, “I hope the state will have sympathy with the feelings of Okinawans through an understanding of history.”

After the meeting, Suga said at a news conference that the central government hoped to produce concrete results to reduce Okinawa’s burden of hosting the bulk of U.S. bases in Japan, and promote its regional economy.

The central and Okinawa governments now can fully communicate with each other, Onaga told reporters.

After intensive talks on the controversial base relocation plan collapsed last September, the two sides agreed to launch a new dialogue framework.

The council faces the challenge of overcoming the adversarial relationship that led to a legal battle between the two sides.

But it is uncertain whether they will manage to resolve their differences, with Tokyo intending to push ahead with the base relocation as planned.