Tokyo, Okinawa remain at odds over Futenma relocation plan


Talks between the central and Okinawa prefectural governments on Wednesday over a contested U.S. military base ended without accord, but the two parties agreed to continue talking.

The meeting was the first since they accepting a court-mediated agreement this month to halt work related to the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma and to resume talks.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and other senior government officials in Tokyo, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said he repeated a demand for base’s closure by February 2019.

Onaga said Suga did not clearly respond to the demand, remarking only that the central government wants Okinawa to “cooperate” in moving Futenma from the crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less-populated Henoko district of Nago.

The relocation of the base is a key part of a broader agreement with Washington to realign U.S. military forces in Japan.

While Onaga is demanding that the base be kicked out of Okinawa, the central government argues moving Futenma from Ginowan to Henoko is the “only solution” to remove the dangers posed by the base without undermining the Japan-U.S. alliance in an increasingly tense security environment in East Asia.

Japanese officials call Futenma “the most dangerous airfield in the world.” In 2004, a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crashed at Okinawa International University, which is adjacent to the base.

In Wednesday’s meeting, the central government expressed its readiness to help reduce Okinawa’s burden. It hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.

Among those measures, it said it would help to get an American military training field in northern Okinawa returned to Japanese use soon, Onaga said.

The two sides will continue talks through working groups, he said.

The March 4 court mediated agreement, which ended the legal battle over Futenma’s move, says that Tokyo and Okinawa will hold talks toward an “amicable settlement” to the contentious plan.