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Forced base transfer in Okinawa would hinder Japan-US ties: Edano

Yukio Edano, who heads the Constitutional Democratic Party, is photographed on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Matthew Pennington)

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) -- The leader of Japan's main opposition party warned Wednesday that if the Japanese government pushes ahead with the planned relocation of a U.S. military base within Okinawa Prefecture, bilateral ties could be harmed as a result of local resentment.

Yukio Edano, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, made the remark in a speech in Washington as official campaigning began Thursday for the Okinawa gubernatorial election slated for Sept. 30. The result of the election could influence the fate of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

Speaking at an event at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, a think tank, Edano cited Okinawa residents' growing frustration at being forced to host the vast majority of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

If Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government "pushed ahead (with the plan), it would further anger Okinawa residents and significantly hinder stable development of Japan-U.S. relations," he said.

Edano said his party wants to cooperate with the United States in simultaneously achieving the three goals of not building a replacement facility in Henoko and returning the Futenma base without negatively affecting Japan-U.S. relations or America's security strategy.

He was referring to the planned relocation of Futenma from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago, both in the southernmost island prefecture.

Many Okinawa residents want to see the base moved outside the prefecture.

Edano, who is on a five-day visit to the U.S. capital through Saturday, said he wants to take the time to communicate well with the United States on the matter.

The Japanese government maintains that relocating Futenma from Ginowan to Henoko is the "only solution" for removing the dangers posed by the air station without undermining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. alliance.

In 2004, a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crashed at Okinawa International University, which is adjacent to the base.

In the gubernatorial election, Atsushi Sakima, a former Ginowan mayor backed by Abe's ruling coalition, has not clarified his stance about the Futenma transfer, while former opposition lawmaker Denny Tamaki has expressed his opposition to the base relocation to the Henoko.

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