WASHINGTON – U.S. government officials expressed hope that the Futenma airfield will be replaced within Okinawa in line with the bilateral agreement despite Gov. Takeshi Onaga’s announcement that he will seek to block the plan.
John Kirby, a State Department spokesman, told reporters Monday he is “confident” that both Washington and Tokyo are committed to implementing the replacement of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is in a crowded residential area in Ginowan, with a new partially offshore airstrip in less densely populated Nago.
Kirby made the remark after being asked to comment on Onaga’s announcement that he will revoke approval for landfill work for the new base that had been granted by his predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima.
Under the relocation plan, the new base is to be built off the Henoko district in Nago using part of the land occupied by U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab.
The relocation of Futenma’s functions is important “for the health of the alliance” between the two countries and the U.S. government is continuing to closely coordinate with the Japanese government, Kirby said.
Jeff Davis, a Defense Department spokesman, said Futenma is “a very critical facility for both the U.S. and Japan” and it is important to find “a suitable alternative for it.”
The U.S. forces stationed in the prefecture, including the marines, provide a capability and capacity to both defend Japan and encourage peace and stability in the region, said Davis, a navy captain.
Onaga has opposed the Futenma relocation plan since before he took office last December, resulting in serious political friction with the central government. The relocation plan has been a security issue between Japan and the United States since the late 1990s.
If Onaga rescinds the approval for the landfill work, possibly next month, it could lead to an unusual court battle between a prefectural government and the central government over the legality of an already agreed plan related to the operation of U.S. military forces in Japan.
Correction, Sept. 15, 2015:
The first name of the former Okinawan mayor was incorrectly written as Kazuhiro. It has been corrected to Hirokazu Nakaima.
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