National

Offshore work on U.S. base in Okinawa to go into high gear in December

Kyodo

Japan has decided to pour soil and sand off the coast in Okinawa in mid-December for the relocation of a key U.S. military base’s operations within the southern island prefecture, government sources said Wednesday.

With the decision by the Japanese government to begin full-fledged landfill work, the relocation plan that Okinawa has strongly opposed for about 20 years will likely enter a new phase.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki held a meeting in the afternoon but failed to find common ground on the plan to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

In their talks in Tokyo, Tamaki said he reiterated Okinawa’s opposition to the relocation of the base within the prefecture.

But Abe adhered to the government’s position to transfer the base from the crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less-populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago in line with its agreement with the United States, according to the governor.

“On the Henoko relocation, there remains a big difference in the way of thinking and we didn’t reach a consensus,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a routine press conference. “The government will steadily advance the relocation work.”

Following the outcome, Okinawa is expected to file a complaint by the end of this month with a committee tasked with resolving conflicts between the central and local governments.

“We want to proceed with the current relocation work as planned. I ask for your understanding,” Tamaki quoted Abe as saying when he met with the press after the meeting.

Many residents in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, have long hoped the Futenma base replacement would not be in the prefecture.

Tamaki said he had urged the central government to stop the construction by “seriously taking into account the public opinion manifested in the result of the Okinawa gubernatorial election.”

Tamaki won the election on Sept. 30 on an anti-base platform, beating his main rival candidate backed by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.

Prior to the talks between Abe and Tamaki, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita and Deputy Okinawa Gov. Kiichiro Jahana also held a meeting in Tokyo as part of an agreement between both sides to engage in intensive negotiations through the end of November.