On Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga visited Okinawa and met with the prefecture’s top leaders in an effort to secure acceptance of the government’s agreement with the United States regarding the relocation of the Futenma Air Station. Suga told the leaders that in return, the government would be offering aid for local economic development.
This was Suga’s first visit to the prefecture since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stepped into power in December, and it is looking like his task will be a difficult one. Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima has again made his disagreement with the plan known, reiterating that it was his prefecture’s demand that the U.S. Marine Corps’ air base be moved somewhere else, preferably outside Okinawa. The meeting’s statements wore on, as Suga said that while the government would listen to Okinawa, it would proceed with the planned relocation, offering all the while to lessen the southwestern island’s burden as much as possible. Last month, the central government had asked the Okinawa governor to allow land reclamation at the relocation site. This approval, along with reaching any progress for the relocation, is still pending. Prime Minister Abe is keen to move the relocation plan alone, but Nakaima has remained steadfast on his demands, saying on Wednesday that reaching any agreement will “take significant time.”
It would seem that the central government is in a bit of bind here, as it is under pressure to move forward with this agreement with the United States. Tokyo plans to relocate the Futenma air base from its current location in the city of Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area, but there is strong opposition from Okinawa, the prefecture that has hosted the majority of the U.S. forces in Japan for quite some time. Abe’s administration has also been negotiating with the United States to return to Okinawa land that the U.S. military is using, as this would probably appease the prefectural government and the people in a way. But difficulties abound with the return of the land, as the U.S. wants to do this in return for the progress of the relocation plan, something that the prefecture is not keen on approving in the near future.