OSAKA – Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima hopes to visit Washington D.C. as early as April to press his case for closing U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma as early as possible.
Sakima won re-election last month with the support of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Details of the visit, including its timing, are still being worked out, Ginowan city officials said. However, with Okinawa Prefectural Assembly elections expected in June and an Upper House election in July that will determine the fate of Aiko Shimajiri, an Upper House member representing Okinawa and the minister in charge of Okinawa issues, Sakima hopes the visit will result in progress on the Futenma issue beforehand.
The majority of the prefectural assembly opposes the Henoko move, while Shimajiri once opposed the Henoko plan but now supports it.
Both elections are seen as proxy battles between Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga and his supporters, who are opposed to the Henoko plan and want Futenma relocated outside of Okinawa, and Abe’s administration and those Okinawans who either favor the Henoko relocation or don’t care where Futenma is relocated as long as the current site is closed down soon.
During his campaign, Sakima took no public position on the controversial plan to relocate Futenma’s functions to a new facility in the Henoko district of Nago, saying only that he would work hard to ensure it does not become a fixed presence in Ginowan. However, he received the support of Abe, who expressed relief when he won.
Following his re-election, Sakima promised voters he would take the Futenma case directly to the United States.
Exactly who Sakima would meet in Washington has yet to be determined, though it would likely include visits to senior U.S. congressional officials familiar with the Okinawa issue as well as those at Washington-based foreign policy think tanks who work on U.S.-Japan relations. Other possibilities include foreign policy advisers to the major U.S. presidential candidates.
In recent years, Okinawa officials have stepped up their efforts at lobbying in Washington, with Onaga and Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine both paying visits to America’s capital and protesting the Henoko plan.
If Sakima does go, he would be the first Ginowan mayor to visit Washington since 2005, when then-mayor Yoichi Iha, who wanted Futenma closed and relocated outside the prefecture, traveled to the U.S. capital.
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