GINOWAN, Okinawa — Construction details for the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to rural northeast Okinawa could be delayed until after the election of Okinawa’s governor in November, according to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
During his first appearance in the Diet since taking office in June, Kan said gaining support from Okinawa for the new base is of paramount importance.
“Including securing understanding from Okinawa, I recognize that several more processes will be needed,” Kan said Monday, commenting on the agreement made with the U.S. in May to decide on the exact location of runways and other construction details for the new air facility by the end of August.
“A certain level of conclusion will be drawn at the expert-level talks,” Kan said. “However, it is not that we will promptly carry out the decision, in particular, by starting construction.”
Kan, however, avoided setting a date.
“I am fully aware that there are many factors that need to be considered,” he said. “In November, President Obama will visit Japan to attend the APEC (Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation), and there are various issues on the political calendar. The situation does not allow me to say by when or how we will do it. I can only say that we will tackle the issue wholeheartedly.”
Added Kan: “I have no intention of settling the issue without regard to the will of people of Okinawa.”
The prime minister and his party are closely watching two elections on Okinawa. The first is the Nago city council election in September. Camp Schwab is in Nago.
The second is the Nov. 28 election for governor. The governor must approve any project that involves reclaiming land in Okinawan waters. Plans being considered for the air facility on Camp Schwab include building either one or two runways that would extend onto landfill in Oura Bay.
Two Okinawa officials are expected to officially announce their candidacy for governor this weekend.
Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima is set to run for re-election with the backing of the Liberal Democratic Party and other members of the ruling coalition that Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan defeated a year ago. Nakaima supported the 2006 agreement to move Futenma units to Camp Schwab until the DPJ began reviewing the project in September.
The other candidate is expected to be Yoshi Iha, the mayor of Ginowan, where Futenma is located. Iha wants the base closed immediately and the Marine air units moved outside Okinawa.
“The biggest problem is the U.S. bases occupy too much valuable space on our small island, and we need that space for economic development,” Iha said recently.
He’s supported by the Social Democratic Party, the Social Mass Party and the Communist Party.