Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga vowed Friday to promote mutual understanding on issues related to the planned relocation of a U.S. military base within Okinawa Prefecture through “intensive consultations” starting next week.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting at the prime minister’s office, Onaga quoted Abe as telling him the two sides “have locked horns until today, but I would like to deepen discussions during the consultations.”
The consultations are part of efforts to defuse tensions between the national and local government over the U.S.-Japan plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a densely populated area in Ginowan to the less populated Henoko district of Nago.
The relocation is a key part of a broader bilateral agreement to reorganize the U.S. military presence in Japan. Onaga has demanded that the Futenma base be relocated outside Okinawa.
While the state suspends work on the base relocation for a month from Monday, the two sides are planning to hold five rounds of talks, the first of which is expected to take place Tuesday in the Okinawa prefectural capital Naha between Onaga and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Onaga said he told Abe that his government “would like to discuss the background” of the burden that Okinawa has shouldered by hosting the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.
The governor said that during the consultations, Okinawa wants to discuss issues such as its postwar history, how and why the Futenma base was built and the deterrence power provided by U.S. forces.
“We have never held substantial discussions (with the state) about history and deterrence power,” he said. “We would like to discuss issues including geopolitical ones.”
Tokyo maintains that relocating Futenma to Henoko is the “only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the air station without undermining the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance in the increasingly tense security environment in East Asia.
In 2004, a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crashed at Okinawa International University, which is adjacent to the base.
During Friday’s meeting, Abe told Onaga that the central government will make efforts to earmark ¥300 billion for Okinawa’s economic development in the state budget for fiscal 2016.
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