WASHINGTON – Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki on Wednesday in Washington asked United States officials to engage in three-way talks with the Okinawa and Japanese governments as part of his campaign to oppose the relocation of a U.S. air base within the island prefecture.
Tamaki, who is on a trip to the U.S. this week, said he made the request to U.S. State and Defense Department officials but they did not give a specific reply.
During the meeting, joined by officials such as Marc Knapper, acting deputy assistant secretary of state, Tamaki said he conveyed his opposition to the plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago.
But the U.S. side expressed support for the current plan.
The officials thanked Okinawa for playing a central role in the U.S.-Japan alliance that is a cornerstone of peace in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the U.S. State Department.
Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military forces in Japan and many residents have long hoped that the Futenma base would be moved out of the prefecture altogether.
The dispute over the base relocation plan, which is based on an agreement reached between Japan and the United States in 1996, has been intensifying as construction work is already proceeding for the replacement facility off Nago.
On Thursday, the Japanese government began transporting construction materials to the planned site for the first time in around three months to prepare for full-fledged landfill work.
Land minister Keiichi Ishii in October invalidated Okinawa’s retraction of the approval originally granted by its governor in 2013 for the relocation work.
During a speech at New York University on Sunday, Tamaki criticized the Japanese government for trying to forcibly construct a replacement facility for the Futenma base even though the result of the latest gubernatorial election proved local residents oppose the relocation plan.
Tamaki has also met with Japan’s Ambassador to the United States Shinsuke Sugiyama and U.S. lawmakers during his visit. He is scheduled to return to Japan on Friday.