In an effort to get the relocation plan moving for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, the government and the prefecture began talks Friday on economic stimulus measures and ways to lighten the burden of hosting U.S. bases there.

The panel decided to set up two subpanels — one to find ways to prime the pump of the Okinawan economy and the other to ease noise pollution, crime and other problems attributed to the U.S. military.

But the panel, which includes Cabinet ministers and Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, is not designed to discuss the relocation plan itself. It is effectively the central government’s attempt to show the carrot ahead of the stick by addressing economic benefits first and the relocation to Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, last.

The agreement, reached in May between Tokyo and Washington, closely resembles a plan the two sides officially signed in 2006. Although the panel was initially set up in 1996 under the Liberal Democratic Party, it hasn’t convened since 2005.

Because the law on Okinawa’s development will expire next March, the government and Okinawa Prefecture began talks on the measures for fiscal 2011 and after.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he will promote the return of U.S. facilities in Okinawa to Japan, including those south of U.S. Kadena Air Base, as well as measures to prevent crimes and accidents.

Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku expressed hope the contentious issue will still be on the table in the future.

“If we hold discussions in a sincere manner and build a trusting relationship, I believe we will be able to talk over the Futenma issue,” Sengoku said.

After the meeting, Nakaima said the relocation plan will not progress unless it “gains understanding” from Okinawan voters, noting that the DPJ-led government has not yet explained why it reneged on its promise to remove Futenma from Okinawa.

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