TOKYO – Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki on Thursday failed in his last-minute bid to persuade the central government not to move ahead with the reclamation of land for the relocation of a key U.S. air base within the island prefecture.
Tamaki met Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Defense Minister Takeshi Iwayaseparately in Tokyo, a day before the planned start of the full-fledged landfill work in Okinawa’s Henoko coastal area where the central government plans to build a replacement facility for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan.
Following his meeting with Suga, Tamaki told reporters that he called on the central government to rethink the move. But Suga was quoted as telling Tamaki that the central government “recognizes the position of Okinawa, but will proceed with the work.”
Iwaya, meanwhile, maintained that the current relocation plan, crafted under an accord with the United States, is “the only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base, which is situated close to schools and homes, without undermining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. alliance.
Iwaya also indicated to Tamaki that the relocation of the Futenma base will help reduce the burden of the people of Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
Tamaki, who was elected as governor in September on a platform of opposition to the base transfer plan, said to reporters that he told Suga that such a forceful position on the issue would lead the Okinawan people to “voice their anger even stronger.”
He also argued that a reduction in Okinawa’s burden will not be achieved unless the central government gives up the plan to build a new base in Okinawa.
As for the next step, Tamaki told reporters that he would like to come up with a plan, without elaborating.
While expressing strong disappointment over the central government’s stance, Tamaki also said he will continue to seek dialogue with the central government to resolve their differences.
Iwaya, for his part, told reporters that the central government’s decision to start the reclamation work had been the result of “a careful process.”
Many residents of Okinawa want the Futenma base to be moved outside the prefecture. Tamaki will hold a prefectural referendum on the base transfer plan on Feb. 24 in the hope of further demonstrating Okinawa’s opposition to the plan.