New defense chief Gen Nakatani repeated Friday that the purpose of moving U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa is to get it out of crowded Ginowan, stressing that keeping it in the prefecture will make sure it remains a deterrent in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The primary purpose of the relocation is to avoid keeping Air Station Futenma, which is located near schools and houses, in the same location,” Nakatani, 57, told reporters at the Defense Ministry.
“The relocation to the Henoko district (in Nago) is the sole option and quickest solution in terms of removing danger as well as keeping the U.S. deterrence intact,” he said, adding there is no way to reduce the U.S. military presence here, given the political situation surrounding Japan.
Given fierce local opposition to the relocation plan that has delayed it by nearly two decades, Nakatani said he would strive to win residents over during his stint as defense chief.
In the Dec. 14 Lower House election, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party lost all four of the prefecture’s single-seat constituencies to anti-base rivals.
In the Okinawa gubernatorial election in November, former Naha Mayor Takeshi Onaga won by campaigning against the relocation plan.
Nakatani said he would improve cooperation with the U.S. in light of discussions on revising the U.S.-Japan defense guidelines by the middle of next year.
As for legislation needed for Japan to utilize the Cabinet’s decision earlier this year to reinterpret war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution to legalize the use of collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under armed attack, Nakatani said he will work on the matter with the ruling parties.
The Cabinet approved the controversial decision on July 1 and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is aiming to accelerate the submission of related bills to the Diet.
On Japan’s relations with China, Nakatani said Tokyo is working with Beijing to establish a maritime communication mechanism at an early date to avoid accidental clashes.
A graduate of the National Defense Academy of Japan and a former first lieutenant in the Ground Self-Defense Force, Nakatani was tapped to succeed Akinori Eto when Abe launched his new Cabinet on Wednesday.
Eto became defense chief in a Cabinet reshuffle in September but came under fire from opposition lawmakers over allegations of shady management of income raised by his political support group.
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