Tokyo urges Okinawa governor to back down in US base row


Shinzo Abe’s right-hand man on Sunday urged the governor of Okinawa to concede in a lingering row over the construction of a US air base ahead of the Japanese prime minister’s visit to Washington later this month.

The base’s construction, first mooted in 1996, has been stymied by local opposition from islanders who say they bear a disproportionate burden in hosting more than half of the 47,000 US service personnel stationed in Japan.

In the latest twist in the two-decade row, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told Governor Takeshi Onaga, “We hope to get your understanding on the plan for maintaining the deterrent power of the Japan-US alliance.”

However, the Okinawan governor countered that while he understood the importance of the alliance with the US, any national security plan must have the Japanese people’s support.

“Okinawa never voluntarily offered (land) for bases. I’m convinced that it is impossible to construct a new base”, Onaga said, referring to a plan to replace the urban Futenma Air Base with one on a rural coastline at Nago.

After the meeting, he told reporters, “I will never step back on the base issue,” criticising the government’s top-down approach.