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News Navigator: What is the US base relocation plan in Okinawa?

(Mainichi)

In the Feb. 4 Nago mayoral election in Okinawa Prefecture, anti-U.S. base incumbent Susumu Inamine was defeated by former municipal assemblyman Taketoyo Toguchi, who was backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party. The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Henoko district in Nago, which was one of the key issues in the race.

Question: What exactly is the air station relocation plan?

Answer: It's a plan agreed by the Japanese and U.S. governments to move the Futenma base in the city of Ginowan to the Henoko district in Nago. Following the 1995 rape of a young girl by three U.S. servicemen stationed in Okinawa, demand for restructuring and reduction of U.S. bases in Okinawa grew. Tokyo and Washington agreed in 1996 that the United States would return the land in central Ginowan, where the air station is located, to Japan under the condition that a substitute base be built within the island prefecture. In the end, Henoko was picked as the new site.

Under the relocation plan, approximately 160 hectares of the sea off the coast of Henoko will be filled to build two 1,800-meter runways in a V-shape. The new base is planned to have functions that the Futenma air station does not have, such as seawalls where amphibious assault ships can dock as well as an area where ammunitions will be loaded on aircraft. The amount of soil planned to be used for the reclamation work totals some 21 million cubic meters. The work is expected to be completed in five years.

Q: How far along has the construction progressed?

A: Former Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima gave the green light to the reclamation work in December 2013 and the central government began the construction of the main facility in land areas in October 2015. In April 2017, the construction of seawalls off the coastline began, and is partially completed. In the meantime, Nakaima's successor Takeshi Onaga revoked the approval for the land reclamation work, which halted the construction temporarily, and people who are against the relocation plan have been staging protests in the area.

Q: Why is there strong anti-base sentiment in Okinawa?

A: Some 70 percent of U.S. military bases and facilities are located in the island prefecture, which only makes up 0.6 percent of Japan's total land area. Even today, due to the high concentration of such bases, accidents involving U.S. aircraft and crimes committed by U.S. military personnel continue. There is an underlying belief among many Okinawa locals that the burden that comes with national security should be shared equally by all prefectures.

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