NAHA, Okinawa — Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima was not satisfied with the reasoning a top Tokyo official gave him Wednesday for Japan’s decision to go ahead with the relocation plan for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
“It was far from being acceptable,” Nakaima told reporters following the 2 ½-hour closed-door meeting with Chief Deputy Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama.
Fukuyama and aides flew to Okinawa to explain the government’s stance on the plan to replace Futenma with a new air facility to be built at Camp Schwab, in rural northeast Okinawa. The project is opposed by Okinawans who had hoped the ruling Social Democratic Party would honor a campaign pledge made last summer to move the Marine air units off the island.
Wednesday’s meeting was requested by Nakaima, who contended the government failed to consult local officials before reaching an agreement with the U.S. in May to go ahead with the project.
“There was nothing new in their explanation,” Nakaima said. “That is regrettable. And it’s far from being acceptable to the people of Okinawa. There was no explanation of how on earth they made an about-face on their campaign promise to move the Marines outside Okinawa.”
In a separate press conference, Fukuyama said he understood Nakaima’s frustration.
“Unfortunately, I have a feeling that the explanation was not satisfactory to the governor,” he said.
As part of May’s reaffirmation of the U.S.-Japan 2006 Futenma relocation agreement, a deadline for finalizing construction details for the new air facility was set for the end of August. But Japanese officials have indicated lately that several proposals, including the number and placement of runways, may be on the table past that date.
Fukuyama declined to set a date for settling on a final plan.
“Today is a start,” he told reporters. “A decision will not be made without the understanding of Okinawa.”
The government is closely watching the run-up to November’s gubernatorial election on Okinawa, which is expected to pit Nakaima, who once reluctantly supported the Camp Schwab plan, against Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha, who adamantly opposes any new base construction on the island.
Since the current construction plan calls for building runways that extend from Camp Schwab onto reclaimed land in Oura Bay, Tokyo needs the cooperation of the governor, who must approve of any such construction that affects Okinawa’s pristine waters.