NAHA, OKINAWA PREFECTURE – Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima on Friday approved landfill work to relocate the U.S. military’s Futenma base within his prefecture, reversing his previous policy of trying to move the base out of Okinawa, a senior prefectural official said.
The decision marks a major breakthrough in the stalled relocation of the base, after years of political maneuvering amid stiff local opposition to a 1996 agreement between Japan and the United States.
The central government has called on Okinawa to accept the construction of a replacement facility in an offshore area in Nago, a plan mapped out in 2006, to move the air station from a densely populated area in Ginowan.
The central government had been seeking the governor’s approval before the mayoral election in Nago in January.
In a meeting with Nakaima on Wednesday in Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unveiled a set of measures to reduce the base-hosting burden on Okinawa and provide financial support to stimulate its economy.
The Futenma relocation is an emotionally charged issue in Okinawa, where anti-base sentiment runs deep amid safety concerns about U.S. military operations.
In 2009, Yukio Hatoyama, the first prime minister after the Democratic Party of Japan took power, raised local hopes by pledging that the base would be moved out of the prefecture “at least.” But he later backed off and decided on a deal with the United States that was almost identical to the 2006 bilateral agreement.