NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – The government is considering a plan to wait until 2015 or later to start filling in the offshore area at Henoko, Okinawa Prefecture, to build a replacement base for the U.S. Futenma facility, government sources said Tuesday.
The government had initially considered starting the landfill work this fall, but it will likely take until around that time to map out how to proceed with construction based on a seabed survey that began Aug. 18, according to the sources.
Such a postponement would not affect the current schedule to build runways and bank protection at the relocation site in five years, the sources said.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima last December approved the start of the landfill work, while urging the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to end operations at Futenma within five years.
Local opposition remains strong to the relocation plan Tokyo and Washington first agreed on in 1996. The Japanese government has apparently judged that pressing ahead with the landfill could backfire in the run-up to the Nov. 16 Okinawa gubernatorial election in which Nakaima will seek another term.
The Abe administration has been trying to cut Okinawa’s share of the burden from hosting the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan, asking the U.S. side to reduce training exercises in the island prefecture.
The U.S. military said Tuesday it has finished transferring all 15 KC-130 air refueling tankers and military personnel to operate them from the Futenma base to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni air base in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
It is the first time that U.S. troops have been moved from Okinawa to another area in Japan.
“We hope that the transfer will serve the purpose of reducing Okinawa’s base-hosting burden,” Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda said in a statement. “We urge the Japanese government and the U.S. military to do everything they can to ensure safety.”
The Iwakuni base is strategically important due to its proximity to the Korean Peninsula. A total of 59 carrier-based aircraft will be moved there from the U.S. Navy’s Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture around 2017.
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