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Prime Minister Taro Aso visited Okinawa Prefecture over the weekend for the first time since he came to power in September, and met with Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima. He did not visit any U.S. military bases or their vicinity, as he apparently sought to avoid luring public attention to base-related issues. But he expressed his willingness to Gov. Nakaima to achieve the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station at an early date. Yet the prospects are cloudy.

A 2006 Japan-U.S. agreement calls for moving the air station, located amid the urban area of Ginowan, in the central part of Okinawa Island, to Camp Schwab in Nago, in the northern part of the island, by the end of 2014. The planned relocation of some 8,000 marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam hinges on the completion of the air station’s relocation. A substitute airfield is planned for construction on part of Camp Schwab and on land to be reclaimed adjacent to the camp, with two 1,600-meter runways set in a V-shaped formation.

Okinawa Prefecture has been asking that the planned new airfield be built “a little more offshore” than agreed to in order to protect the environment. The central government has not shown any sign of meeting the request. Both the Japanese and U.S. governments fear that accepting any change in the plan would delay the relocation of the air station. Okinawa Prefecture takes the position that unless the central government accepts the request, the governor, empowered to allow or reject land reclamation, will not approve the land reclamation plan.

If this situation continues, Futenma Air Station issue will remain unresolved. Both the central and prefectural governments need to have frank discussions on the matter and try to work out a compromise.

At the very least, consultation on the relocation should resume among the central, prefectural and municipal governments concerned. The last meeting was held in July. Both sides should remember the starting point for the relocation plan: an accident at the Futenma Air Station could turn into a disaster involving citizens living around the facility.

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