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Back Local News Abe to move forward on Futenma

Abe to move forward on Futenma

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NAGANO – The administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is poised to make a formal request to Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima for approval of the reclamation work needed to relocate the Futenma Marine Air Station to reclaimed land off the Henoko area in Nago City, according to a report in the Yomiuri Shimbun.

If granted, the approval would be a key step forward in the relocation of the base, and could potentially help speed up the redeployment of U.S. Marines out of Okinawa to Guam and elsewhere in the Pacific region.

The paper states that the request is more likely to be approved in the wake of a lopsided 88-2 vote in favor of the plan at a general meeting Monday of Nago’s local fishermen’s cooperative. This is considered significant since it helps to give political cover to the governor if he should decide to accept the request. 

The fishermen once cultured seaweed in the waters off Henoko, but they have now been designated as a U.S. Marine Corps exercise area, making it virtually impossible for marine products to be harvested there. The Yomiuri quoted the head of the cooperative, Hiroshi Kohagura, as saying after the meeting, "It would be better for us to get compensation." 

According to the Yomiuri, one government official called the cooperative’s move “a great step forward” in the protracted effort to relocate the air base, while an official with the Defense Agency said, "The base won't be moved immediately, but now we can stand at the threshold of relocating it to the Henoko district.”

It is expected that the administration will apply for the permission only after the current session of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly ends on March 29 in order to save Nakaima from having to face direct questioning from opponents of the plan in the assembly.

Obstacles

The administration still faces large obstacles before the relocation actually moves forward, however. Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine remains strongly opposed to the relocation plan, along with a large percentage of the prefecture’s residents.

With Nakaima scheduled to step down as governor at the end of his current term in December next year, and with a Nago mayoral election set for next January, the administration is reportedly eager to gain the governor’s approval by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe brushed aside suggestions that the base might be moved outside Okinawa prefecture at a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Monday.

"I must say that it would be difficult, as a realistic policy option, to relocate the air station outside the prefecture," Abe was quoted as saying by the Yomiuri.

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