NAHA--Venturing into a policy area that bedeviled past administrations, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated he was eager to reduce the burden of U.S. military bases in Okinawa.
Abe met Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima for talks here Feb. 2. It was Abe's first visit to Okinawa since he became prime minister in December.
Referring to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma located in Ginowan, Nakaima said: "The people of Okinawa have a strong desire to see it (relocated) outside of the prefecture as much as possible. We would appreciate your efforts to resolve the issue in a manner that matches that wish."
In response Abe said: "Futenma should not be allowed to remain permanently where it now is. I want to make every effort to reduce the burden (on Okinawa)."
Abe explained that his administration would make efforts for the economic promotion of Japan's southernmost prefecture.
"Okinawa is a region within Japan that holds much potential," Abe said. He touched upon the government decision to push forward the completion date for a second runway at Naha Airport by 14 months. The Okinawa prefectural government had lobbied for an early completion of the runway.
Nakaima praised the Abe administration's emphasis on economic promotion.
The government plans to include a total of 300.1 billion yen ($3.3 billion) for Okinawa's economic promotion in the budget for fiscal 2013. The figure exceeds what was included in the current fiscal year budget.
Before his meeting with Nakaima, Abe visited the Air Self-Defense Force Naha Base. Addressing members of the Ground, Maritime and Air SDF, Abe said: "The national security environment Japan faces has become further complicated and there have been continuous challenges to Japan's sovereignty and territory as well as territorial waters and airspace. I will stand in the forefront and am determined to resolutely protect our territory, territorial waters and airspace."
He also touched upon the increase in the Defense Ministry budget for fiscal 2013, the first such increase in 11 years, as well as the government's plan to revise the National Defense Program Guidelines.
Abe said, "We will seriously make efforts to improve the response capabilities of the SDF, including a strengthening of the defense structure for the Nansei (southwestern) islands region."
Abe also will visit the Futenma base as well as the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, which has jurisdiction over the waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands, on Feb. 2. Coast Guard officials have been busy patrolling the waters near the Senkakus because of repeated incursions by Chinese government ships. Beijing also claims territorial rights to the islands, which it refers to as the Diaoyu Islands.
The visit to Okinawa is designed to demonstrate the Abe administration's posture of dealing with the Futenma relocation issue prior to Abe's scheduled visit to the United States in late February.
Past administrations made no headway in reducing the U.S. military presence in any meaningful way. Okinawa hosts some 75 percent of all U.S. military facilities in Japan.
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