National / Politics

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga hails return of Okinawa land plots from U.S. military

JIJI

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga praised the return of land plots formerly used by the U.S. military in Okinawa Prefecture.

“This marks a big step toward the reduction of Okinawa’s base-hosting burden,” Suga said Sunday at a ceremony to celebrate the ownership transfers conducted at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Makiminato Service Area in Urasoe and the former West Futenma Housing Area in Ginowan.

“We’ll do our best to achieve the full return of the Makiminato Service Area and Futenma air station as soon as possible and revitalize local communities,” Suga said.

The contentious Futenma base, situated in a congested part of Ginowan, is set to be relocated to Henoko, a coastal area in Nago further north in Okinawa, under a Japan-U.S. agreement. But fierce local opposition has delayed the transfer for decades.

Before the ceremony, Suga toured the returned sites.

In 2013, the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed on the return of U.S. military facilities and sites south of Kadena Air Base. The partial return took place in late March.

On Saturday, Suga visited Nago to hold talks with Nago Mayor Taketoyo Toguchi and the leaders of 12 municipalities in northern Okinawa.

The leaders asked the central government to support the revitalization of northern Okinawa and to make it easier to host U.S. military installations, which are often considered a source of noise pollution, accidents and crime.

“Many U.S. military bases are located in northern Okinawa and a number of drills are conducted there,” Suga said. “We’ll work with the U.S. military to ensure that effects on local communities are kept to the minimum.”

Earlier Saturday in Naha, Suga met with senior officials of the Okinawa chapter of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and exchanged views about the gubernatorial election slated this autumn.

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, a staunch opponent of the outsized U.S. military presence there, has not clarified whether he will seek a second term in the coming election. He underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer last month.