TOKYO -- Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said on Feb. 26 that the government will try to set a new deadline with Okinawa Prefecture for a halt to the operations of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the southernmost prefecture, after the previously set deadline expired on Feb. 18.
The central and Okinawa prefectural governments had set a five-year deadline in 2014 for the halt to the operation of the Futenma airfield in the southern prefectural city of Ginowan, under an agreement reached between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and then Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima.
"It is regrettable that the deadline could not be met," Iwaya told a press conference on Feb. 26. "But the government would like to exert efforts toward the full return of the Futenma base (to Japan) as early as possible," he added.
The move comes as the national and Okinawa governments have been sharply confronting each other over the construction of a new facility to replace the Futenma airstrip off the coast of the Henoko district of Nago to the north of the island prefecture.
"It is essential to have a new environment for the central and Okinawa governments to share awareness concerning the removal of danger posed by the Futenma base until its transfer (to Henoko) has been completed," Iwaya said, suggesting the need to strike a new accord with Okinawa.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Feb. 26 that he will meet Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki as early as March 1. The meeting will be the first between the two leaders following the Feb. 24 Okinawa Prefecture referendum, in which votes cast against land reclamation work for the construction of the new base in Henoko topped an overwhelming 70 percent.
However, the central government dared to continue with landfill work even the day after the referendum, further deepening the rift between the state and Okinawa. The administration of Prime Minister Abe apparently aims to find common ground by setting a uniform goal of removing the danger of the Futenma base, which it believes to be easier for both parties to agree upon.
Prime Minister Abe sought understanding toward the continued construction work for the Henoko facility when he commented on the Feb. 24 referendum in the Diet on Feb. 26. "We must avoid the Futenma air station from being fixed (where it is now). We will complete the base in Henoko," Abe vowed during a meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on Internal Affairs and Communications.
With regard to his meeting with Gov. Tamaki, Abe said, "I think Okinawa Prefecture shares the same notion (about avoiding Futenma's fixation). I would like to talk with the governor if he desires."
(Japanese original by Noriaki Kinoshita, Political News Department)