(Asahi: April 17, 2015 – p. 3)
By Norihisa Hoshino, Kazuo Yamagishi
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga will meet on April 17 to discuss the relocation of the U.S. forces’ Futenma Air Station to Henoko in Nago City, an issue on which the Abe administration has been in conflict with Okinawa. It appears that the Abe administration wants to appeal to public opinion by demonstrating willingness to hold dialogue with Okinawa. However, there are no signs that either side is prepared to compromise, so this issue is likely to drag on for some time.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced the meeting at his regular news conference on April 16.
An aide to the Prime Minister said: “Working level officials had nothing to do with setting up the meeting. The decision was just conveyed to us.”
Onaga had requested a meeting with Abe when he met with Suga in Naha on April 5, and Abe reportedly decided to agree to a meeting after discussing this with Suga subsequently. Commenting on the meeting on April 16, Onaga said: “I think the meeting has been set for tomorrow after Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga came (to Okinawa) first and gave thought to various considerations.”
The Prime Minister’s Official Residence [Kantei] had been reluctant to hold the meeting. Behind its sudden decision to accept is the fact that it is sensitive to public opinion on the Futenma relocation issue.
Since Onaga took over as governor last December, he had made repeated requests to meet with Suga, who doubles as minister in charge of reducing Okinawa’s base-hosting burden. Suga only consented after four months, which led to the meeting on April 5. A Kantei official observed: “If the Prime Minister also refuses to meet [with Onaga] for a long time, the administration may be seen to be evasive.”
Another factor is Abe’s visit to the U.S. from April 26. One goal of this visit is to publicize to the world the deepening of the Japan-U.S. alliance on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Holding a meeting with the Okinawa governor before this visit is also meant to show the U.S. that Tokyo is making positive efforts to resolve the Futenma relocation issue.
However, the administration stands by its policy of proceeding with Henoko relocation, while Onaga takes the exact opposite position, declaring, “It is not possible to build [a new base] in Henoko.”
One senior Kantei official said: “(The meeting) is part of efforts to push the construction work forward. While it will not be easy for Okinawa to change its position, we hope it will also make an effort.” (Slightly abridged)