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Ginowan race victory gives Gov’t leeway to put off Henoko work until spring

  • 2016-02-01 15:00:00
  • , Sankei
  • Translation

(Sankei: February 1, 2016 – Top play)

 

 The Ministry of Defense will put off embankment work off Henoko until spring or later as part of a plan to relocate the U.S. Marines Futenma Air Station and build a new facility in Henoko, a source close to the matter revealed on Jan. 31. It will review work procedures and material procurement based on the advice of technical officers who have been seconded from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. Once work commences, it will accelerate efforts to avoid causing a delay in the reclamation work, which is scheduled to be completed by October 2020.

 

 As of Jan. 29, nine officers were seconded to the MOD from MLIT’s Ports and Harbors Division and other sections to undertake the relocation project. In prior discussions, they are said to have requested a review of the work procedures and material procurement that the MOD had planned.

 

 Meanwhile, Okinawa Prefecture Governor Takeshi Onaga will soon file a complaint against a national-local dispute settlement panel, which dismissed his objection to MLIT Minister’s decision to terminate the validity of his revocation of the reclamation approval. This will be the third lawsuit related to the Henoko plan.

 

 The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe concluded that the victory of a candidate it backed in the mayoral race in Ginowan helped curb the momentum for the anti-base campaign led by Onaga to a certain degree. This gave the government “leeway to fine-tune the project” to expedite the relocation work, a senior government official says.

 

 The government will seek opportunities for dialogue with Onaga, while concentrating on the court battles for the time being.

 

 The tide is also shifting for the government on the relocation issue. On Jan. 28, the government and Okinawa met for the first time to discuss measures to stimulate the local economy and reduce the base-hosting burden in the prefecture. During the next meeting or beyond, Onaga is planning to push the government to terminate the operations of the Futenma airfield by February 2020. His predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, requested it be closed “within five years.”

 

 Under these circumstances, there will be no way for the two sides to find common ground. The termination of the Futenma facility by February 2020 will only be possible if a runway at Henoko is provisionally allowed to be used while the delivery of materials and equipment has yet to be completed. Given that Onaga’s revocation of the reclamation approval is making it difficult to construct a runway, the government will not be able to agree to close the Futenma facility.

 

 On the other hand, the government wants to accelerate the return of land south of Kaneda Air Base. When the government asked Onaga which area he sought for early return at the Jan. 28 meeting, the governor immediately named Naha Military Port. “The government obtained his word,” said a senior official with prefectural authorities.

 

 The return of Naha Military Port is based on the condition that its functions will be transferred off the coast of Urasoe. Onaga has been objecting to this, as it requires reclamation work similar to the Henoko plan. He will be asked to explain the consistency of his remarks at a future meeting.

 

 The prefecture is also concerned about elections. The recent mayoral race in Ginowan proved that it would not be able to regain steam unless reformist forces, such as the Japanese Communist Party, play a major part. During the House of Councillors election this summer, the Onaga side has already decided to back a former reformist-aligned, Gionwan mayor, but calls for changing the candidate are already beginning to spread. (Abridged)

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