Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima is set to approve the central government’s application to reclaim a sea area off the Henoko district in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, for the proposed relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
The decision, to be formally announced Dec. 27, followed the governor’s meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Dec. 25.
In the meeting, Abe explained to Nakaima about measures the central government will take to reduce the prefecture’s burden from hosting so many U.S. military facilities.
“I am surprised at how well the measures address the issues at hand,” Nakaima said.
His approval is a major step forward in the process of relocating the Futenma base, now located in a densely populated residential area in Ginowan, also in the prefecture.
Nakaima had called for a halt to operations at the Futenma base within five years and for the land it occupies to be promptly returned to Japan.
In the Dec. 25 meeting, Abe told Nakaima that the central government will set up a working group within the Defense Ministry to realize his requests.
The prime minister also promised that the working group will consider proposals to move half of the training for Osprey tilt rotor transport aircraft, which are currently deployed in the Futenma base, to locations outside Okinawa Prefecture.
Doing so would go a long way to appeasing concern about the possibility of accidents and harm to civilians. “I am putting big expectations (on the reduction of the danger),” Nakaima said.
The Okinawa prefectural government had also called for the handover to Japan of land occupied by the Makiminato logistics base for the U.S. Marine Corps within seven years. Abe said that a different working group will consider that request.
Abe also explained that the government’s fiscal 2014 budget to promote Okinawa’s economy is larger than the total amount requested by related ministries and agencies. The government will earmark more than 300 billion yen (about $2.9 billion) every year until fiscal 2021 for the promotion of Okinawa’s economy, Abe added.
In the meeting, Nakaima told Abe, “Thank you very much for earmarking a (fiscal 2014) budget larger than the amount requested (by the ministries and agencies).”
The prime minister also said that the government will begin negotiations with the United States to conclude a special agreement that will make it possible for local governments in Okinawa Prefecture to conduct environmental surveys in U.S. bases.
Nakaima was delighted with this development, saying, “I am extremely happy because the talks include the environmental surveys we have requested for.”
Abe also told Nakaima that the government has already agreed with the United States to start talks to conclude a new intergovernmental agreement that will supplement the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement.
The U.S. Defense Department announced Dec. 25 the start of negotiations with the Japanese government to conclude a new agreement.
“This framework will help guide our activities going forward related to our shared goal of reducing impact to Japan’s precious natural landscape as we continue to conduct operations that provide for the common defense of Japan,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement issued by the department.
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