Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda yesterday offered a personal apology to Okinawa over his government’s attitude to the moving of an unpopular US air base.
In his first trip to the tropical island chain as prime minister, Noda told Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima he intended to stick with a long-stalled plan to shift the air base, but was sorry for the way the issue had been handled.
“We mustn’t fix the Futenma air station” at its current site, Noda told Nakaima, referring to a 2006 agreement for the base to be relocated from its crowded urban location to a sparsely populated coastal zone.
However, a bowing Noda added: “I apologize to the governor and people of Okinawa” for the insincere attitude the governing Democratic Party of Japan has shown toward the issue. “We have to see progress this year in developing Okinawa and reducing your burden” of hosting US troops.
Many Okinawans want the base off the southern island altogether and say the US military presence there should be dramatically cut.
However, Tokyo and Washington see the island chain as a vital bridgehead in the rapidly evolving Pacific theater, where the growing military might of China regularly raises eyebrows.
“The security situation surrounding our nation is getting tougher. We have to maintain deterrence capability,” Noda said.
Nakaima kept to his line of rejecting the base relocation plan and urged the central government to reconsider the move to the coral waters of Henoko in favor of an off-island solution.