OSAKA – The newly re-elected mayor of the Okinawan town hosting U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma has called on the prefectural governor to reopen negotiations on closing the controversial base within five years.
The request follows reports that a judge in a lawsuit between Okinawa Prefecture and the central government over constructing a replacement facility for Futenma in the Henoko district of Nago is urging both parties to agree to one of two possible settlements.
Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima, who has the support of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Cabinet and who takes no public position on the relocation of Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture, met Tuesday with Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who backed his opponent and is trying to stop the Henoko project.
Sakima urged the governor to reconvene a group of national, prefectural, and Ginowan leaders that seeks to close Futenma within five years.
“Five years is the limit and it’s necessary to deal with the problem quickly,” Sakima reportedly told Onaga.
Onaga said the prefecture also sought to restart the meetings, which began in early 2014 but were suspended after Onaga beat the Tokyo-backed incumbent later that year. But the governor added closing Futenma within five years was impossible, and that it was necessary to move away from the Henoko plan.
Sakima, however, will travel to Tokyo on Thursday to meet with central government officials about reconvening the group.
The standoff between Okinawa and Tokyo over the Henoko issue took a surprising turn earlier this week, when reports emerged that the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court, which is hearing a lawsuit over the issue, offered two settlement proposals.
The first, Okinawa and national media reported, asks Onaga to withdraw his cancellation of permission for a Henoko-related landfill project and let it be built.
In exchange, the central government would negotiate with the U.S. to have the Henoko facility returned after 30 years, where it could possibly be used as a joint military-civilian airport. While Nago’s mayor and city council are currently opposed to the Henoko plan, some former mayors have indicated they would support it if commercial flights could also land.
The second proposal purportedly calls on Tokyo to suspend construction and to renegotiate with the prefecture.
Between now and the June prefectural assembly elections, how Onaga and the central government respond to these two possibilities is likely to test how strong Onaga and the anti-Henoko and anti-U.S. base supporters are, and how much support Abe and Tokyo-backed Sakima have among Okinawan people who favor the Henoko option, or who may not want it but see no alternative.