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Onaga’s appeals over air base rebuffed in U.S.

  • February 05, 2017
  • , The Japan News , 8:35 pm
  • English Press

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga has wrapped up his latest visit to the United States where he made appeals to the U.S. government on his objections to the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in his prefecture. Onaga, however, found he was not able to achieve tangible results while the central government confirmed the plan with the U.S. defense secretary, who was visiting Japan.

 

On Friday, Onaga visited the State Department in Washington to hold a meeting with Joseph Young, director of the Office of Japanese Affairs, and other officials. The governor conveyed his objection to relocating Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko district of Nago, also in the prefecture.

 

The U.S. officials, however, reiterated that constructing the replacement facility at Henoko is “the only solution,” according to a statement the department released.

 

While Onaga was staying in Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited Japan, during which the government confirmed the relocation plan with him. Moreover, the government aims to start offshore work for land reclamation on the coast of Henoko by the end of this week at the earliest. These developments will likely put the governor in an even more difficult situation.

 

It was Onaga’s third visit to the United States regarding the relocation issue. During the latest stay, the governor called for support for his anti-relocation stance by meeting with 12 House of Representatives members and delivered a speech at a local university.

 

Onaga’s visit was aimed at “taking advantage of the timing of the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump to help gain more support in U.S. public opinion” on the anti-relocation sentiment, according to a senior prefectural government official.

 

During a press conference Friday at the end of his U.S. stay, Onaga emphasized it was a fruitful visit, saying he was able to hold “flexible discussions.”

 

On the other hand, however, Mattis confirmed the Henoko relocation plan when he held meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and other officials during his visit to Japan. This ironically indicated that Onaga’s visit did not have any influence on the U.S. government.

 

Onaga said he felt “shame” about the news, according to a source close to the governor.

 

In addition to the fruitless visit, Onaga’s governorship is facing other challenges — most notably, the resignation of Mitsuo Ageda, his close aide, as vice governor in January over a scandal in which he allegedly asked the prefectural board of education to pass certain examinees in a teacher employment test.

 

Onaga remains unchanged over his stance to use his power as governor in his efforts to block the relocation plan, but a senior Defense Ministry official pointed out the governor has “a limited range of options regarding the power he can exercise” because the prefectural government has lost an appeal in the Supreme Court over the relocation.

 

“He cannot block work for land reclamation,” the official added

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