NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. - The Defense Ministry submitted an application Friday to Okinawa for land reclamation to build a replacement U.S. air base, a senior prefectural official said.
The central government thus took the first specific step to move forward its agreement with Washington to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
But there is no likelihood that the application will be accepted, as Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima as well as many other local leaders and residents have been urging Tokyo and Washington to close Futenma and build its replacement somewhere outside the prefecture. The land reclamation is for the coastal area of Henoko in the city of Nago.
“The relocation to Henoko will effectively be impossible,” Nakaima said earlier. Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine has also objected to the new base.
The submission came after Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed in Washington last month that the two countries would proceed with replacing Futenma base, which is in the densely populated city of Ginowan, with an airbase in the less-populated Henoko area.
“The air station’s remaining (in Futenma) should be prevented by any means,” said Hirofumi Takeda, head of the ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau. “We will make firm efforts to gain understanding from the people of Okinawa.”
The prefecture is expected to take about a year to decide whether to OK the fill work.