The government on Monday suspended work on the planned relocation of the Futenma military base within Okinawa Prefecture for a month as part of efforts to defuse tensions with local authorities.
Preparations for landfill work at Henoko on the coast of Nago will be suspended through Sept. 9. The central and Okinawa Prefectural governments will use this period to hold “intensive consultations” in an attempt to break the impasse over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma from a densely populated district in the city of Ginowan.
National and Okinawan officials plan to hold five rounds of talks, with the first on Tuesday in Naha involving Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga.
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 kicked out of the prefecture entirely.
Suga told a news conference the break will offer “a cooling period” and “a calm atmosphere,” and that the talks will reflect on the benefits to Okinawa in building a base at Henoko.
Suga doubles as minister in charge of reducing the headache to Okinawa of having to host the bulk of the U.S. military in Japan.
“We would also like to hear how the governor views the issue of removing the danger posed by Futenma, which is said to be the most dangerous airfield in the world,” Suga said.
Okinawan residents opposed to the relocation gathered in protest outside the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab, the site of the planned landfill.
The central government maintains that relocating Futenma’s functions to Henoko is the “only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the air station’s current location in Ginowan 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 Futenma base.
Speaking after a meeting Friday with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Onaga said the Okinawa Prefectural Government wants to use the consultations to discuss issues such as Okinawa’s postwar history, factors behind the Futenma base’s existence and the deterrence power provided by U.S. forces.
Earlier, Onaga said that while the work suspension holds, he will not make a decision on revoking approval for the landfill work, which his predecessor granted.
Onaga was referring to a “legal flaw” that a prefectural advisory panel says it found in the process of then-Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima’s landfill approval in December 2013.
Onaga ousted Nakaima in last November’s election.
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