• Jiji, Kyodo

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The Japanese government and Okinawa Prefecture failed to narrow the gap Saturday over the planned relocation of a U.S. military base within the prefecture.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki reiterated his opposition to the central government’s relocation plan during his first meeting with Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato in Naha.

Kato doubles as minister in charge of mitigating the impact of U.S. forces in Okinawa in the government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who took office last month. He visited the prefecture for the first time since assuming the posts last month.

At the beginning of the meeting, Tamaki presented a written request for the central government to scrap its plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station from a densely populated area in Ginowan to the Henoko coastal district in Nago.

In response, Kato said that the only solution to maintain the effectiveness of the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. alliance and remove the danger of the Futenma base is to relocate it to Henoko.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kato said the Suga government will maintain its stance of doing all it can to reduce Okinawa’s burden of hosting U.S. bases.

Suga played a key role in promoting the Futenma relocation plan when he was chief Cabinet secretary in the government of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe.

The Suga government plans to promote the development of Okinawa’s economy in an effort to win local support for the relocation plan.

The government “will proceed ahead with Okinawa’s development comprehensively as a national project,” Kato said.

Tamaki aims to get a fresh start to talks with the central government now that the new prime minister is in office.

“We’re apparently on the start line for talks on whether the costly relocation to Henoko is right or there is another option,” Tamaki said.

In April, the Defense Ministry filed for approval from Okinawa for ground improvement work in Henoko as part of the Futenma relocation project. Tamaki is unlikely to give approval.

Even if the work is approved, the project is now expected to take at least 12 years, making the return of the Futenma site unlikely until at least the 2030s.

In addition, the project’s cost is now estimated to nearly triple to some ¥930 billion.

Prior to the talks at the prefectural government’s main office building, Kato met separately with Naha Mayor Taketoyo Toguchi and Ginowan Mayor Masanori Matsugawa.

He also viewed the Futenma base from the top of Ginowan’s city hall and other major U.S. military facilities from a helicopter.

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