In what is seen as a huge breakthrough for the long-delayed relocation of the U.S. Marines Corps’ Futenma Air Station, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima is expected to approve the land reclamation work in the Henoko district in Nago. This will pave the way for the transfer of the base from its current location in Ginowan, 18 years after the Japanese and U.S. government approved the relocation.
Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Nakaima on Wednesday, where he shared with the governor the plans to reduce the burden on the prefecture of hosting majority of the U.S. forces in the region. One proposal that Tokyo is negotiating with Washington is to allow authorities from Japan to enter U.S. bases for environmental surveys and other purposes. They believe it will complement the already existing Status of Forces Agreement. Another proposal is to move forward the return of the land currently occupied by the Futenma Air Station, originally scheduled by 2022. Tokyo is also suggesting that U.S. military exercises using the controversial MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft be conducted in various locations, not just in Okinawa.
After the 25-minute meeting, Nakaima said, “I’m grateful for the surprisingly good proposals made by the prime minister.” But even before the meeting, reports say that the Okinawa government had already been preparing for the governor to make the announcement, giving his approval of the reclamation project. One reason for the change of heart is that only one candidate will probably run against incumbent mayor Susumu Inamine in the Nago mayoral elections scheduled on January 19. The candidate will most likely support the relocation of the air base to Henoko, a move that Inamine opposes. Initially, two politicians announced their candidacies – former Vice Mayor Bunshin Suematsu and former Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro – which might have led to votes being split between the two. But sources say Shimabukuro will withdraw if Nakaima gives his approval of the project. The mayoral election is seen as a “de facto referendum” for Okinawan residents regarding the relocation plan.
[ via Yomiuri Shimbun ]