The Abe administration does not appear intent in seeking the support of Okinawans as it pushes for building a new facility in the prefecture to relocate U.S. Marine Air Station Futenma. The government this week started seabed drilling in waters off the Henoko district of Nago for reclamation work to build the Futenma replacement airstrip.

Coming less than three months before the Okinawa gubernatorial race in November, in which the incumbent who gave the go-ahead for the reclamation faces an uphill battle amid local opposition, the move raised speculation that the administration was rushing to set the work in motion before local voters have a chance to express their will on the divisive relocation issue.

Relocation of the Futenma facility in the densely populated city of Ginowan, central Okinawa, has been a pending issue since 1996. Local opposition to construction of a new U.S. military facility within Okinawa to replace Futenma — which they say would not result in net reduction of their U.S. base burden — has prevented the project from moving forward.