Naha – Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki remained at odds during their meeting Thursday over the issue of relocating a key U.S. military base within Okinawa Prefecture.
Tamaki reiterated his opposition to the controversial transfer plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in a residential area of Ginowan, to the less populated coastal area of Henoko in Nago in line with Japan’s agreement with the United States, demanding that it be relocated out of the prefecture.
Kishi was visiting Okinawa for the first time since assuming the post of defense minister last month.
Kishi told Tamaki that the government’s position on the issue was unchanged, saying that the relocation to Henoko is “the only solution from the perspective of maintaining the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance and addressing the dangers (of having the base) in Futenma.”
“Making steady progress with relocation work should lead to an early return of the land in Futenma” occupied by the base, he added.
Tamaki said the central government should listen to Okinawa residents who want the facility out of the prefecture and “stop its landfill work (in Henoko) at once,” while handing to Kishi a written request calling for the early resumption of meetings between officials of the central government and Ginowan aimed at realizing an early return of the land for the Futenma base.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kishi said the government will consider resuming the talks.
Okinawa hosts about 70% of the total acreage exclusively used by U.S. military facilities in Japan, despite the prefecture only representing 0.6% of the country’s land.
Prior to the talks at the prefectural government office, Kishi inspected the progress of the construction work in Nago.
In April, the local bureau of the Defense Ministry asked the prefecture for a permit for an alteration to the base design, after concluding that ground improvement work was needed along the coastline of Henoko. The Okinawa Prefectural Government is expected to reject the request.
Kishi’s two-day trip to the island prefecture through Thursday came as Chinese government vessels are stepping up activities in waters around the uninhabited Senkaku Islands within Okinawa that are at the heart of a territorial dispute with China.
China claims the Japan-controlled islets, located about 400 kilometers west of Naha in the East China Sea, and calls them Diaoyu.
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