April 28, 2015 3:13 am JST
Okinawa impasse

Japan, US stress relocation as 'only solution' to Futenma

YUKIO TAJIMA, Nikkei staff writer

NEW YORK -- Building a controversial new military base in Okinawa is the sole means of removing an American airfield lodged in a crowded urban area, foreign affairs and defense chiefs from Japan and the U.S. reaffirmed Monday.

     Constructing a replacement facility on the Henoko coast is the "only solution" that avoids the continued use of the Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station, Japan's Fumio Kishida and Gen Nakatani said in a statement with American counterparts John Kerry and Ashton Carter.

     As justification for the project, they cited the need to strengthen the deterrence provided by U.S. forces in Japan in light of Asia's changing security landscape.

     The four officials make up the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee, a format dubbed "two plus two." Their support of the Henoko plan echoes a statement issued after a 2013 meeting.

     The political calculus shifted when Takeshi Onaga was elected Okinawa Prefecture's governor last year on a promise to fight the relocation. Against this change, Tokyo and Washington are stressing their commitment to staying the course.

     Okinawans opposed to the Henoko plan are organizing large-scale local demonstrations to coincide with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's summit Tuesday with U.S. President Barack Obama. Dissent on the southern Japanese island may escalate if Abe fails to grant Onaga's request to tell Obama that locals reject the plan.

     The statement does express determination to carry out a plan for returning some U.S. military facilities in Okinawa to Japanese control and calls for faster negotiations on an agreement covering environmental safeguards on American bases.

     The statement emphasizes the importance of three-way cooperation with South Korea to address the threat posed by North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. It also proposes expanding cooperation with Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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