Defense Minister Gets Nowhere In Talks With Okinawan Leaders Over U.s. Base

Defense minister gets nowhere in talks with Okinawan leaders over U.S. baseDefense Minister Gen Nakatani did not receive the warm welcome that Okinawans traditionally give to visitors to their islands during his swing through the prefecture on Aug. 16.
Nakatani hoped to obtain the understanding of local leaders over the government's plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, both in Okinawa Prefecture.

But he hit a brick wall of fierce resistance and harsh criticism during his meetings with local leaders.

"I hold no feeling that the distance between us has narrowed," said Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine after meeting Nakatani. "It has been five years and six months since I became mayor, but I have yet to hear a detailed explanation (for the relocation). There was absolutely no sense of sincerity."

Nakatani also met with Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga. The meeting with Onaga was part of a month-long process of intense meetings between the central and Okinawa prefectural governments over the Henoko relocation.

Nakatani met Inamime at a Nago hotel. The last time a defense minister visited Nago to meet with the mayor was in 2011 when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power.

"While consideration was given to relocating (Futenma) outside of Okinawa Prefecture under the DPJ administration, the conclusion was reached that relocating to Henoko was the only possible solution," Nakatani said to kick off the meeting. "The Liberal Democratic Party subsequently returned to power so I want to explain the government's thinking."

Inamine was blunt in his response, saying, "Relocating to Henoko is one point that will be difficult to accept based on public opinion surveys of Okinawa residents and the results of various elections."

Nakatani said after the meeting, "We had a frank exchange of opinions. I hope to hold additional meetings in the future."

Nakatani later went to the Okinawa prefectural government building for his meeting with Onaga, a vehement critic of the relocation plan.

"After listening to the requests and opinions of mayors of local governments that host U.S. military bases in Okinawa Prefecture, I want to cooperate in putting together a response," Nakatani told Onaga.

Regarding the Henoko relocation, Onaga said, "Although I spoke with the chief Cabinet secretary, there was no deepening of our discussion. There was essentially no talk outside of the Japan-U.S. agreement that Henoko was the only solution."

Nakatani tried to obtain understanding for the Henoko relocation by explaining the need to have U.S. bases located in Okinawa from a deterrence standpoint.

However, Onaga was critical of the government stance. After his meeting with Nakatani, the Okinawa governor told reporters, "I believe (the government) only regards Okinawa as part of its territory. I sense the thinking that 'because there are islands there, we should make a (security) response on those islands.' "