Japan yesterday said it was sticking with plans to relocate a controversial US military base in Okinawa, despite the election of a local politician strongly opposed to the move.
Susumu Inamine was re-elected mayor in Sunday’s polls in Nago, Okinawa, where the base is to be moved.
His victory marked a fresh setback for long-stalled efforts by Tokyo and Washington to relocate the US Marines’ Futenma Air Station, more than 17 years after the move was first agreed.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday described the weekend election results as “very regrettable,” but added that Tokyo would work to change Inamine’s mind “patiently.”
“There will be no change in going ahead” with the move, Suga told reporters in Tokyo.
“Japan is a country ruled by law and we will carry out [the project] calmly, based on legal procedures,” he said.
Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera also dismissed the poll results, saying that “this is a local election, so I don’t think this will directly influence the issue.”
However, Inamine, who won his second four-year term with backing from leftist groups, yesterday vowed to block the move.
“That we won’t build the base has been my campaign pledge, so I will firmly commit to this cause,” he told reporters.
While he does not have the right to shut down the move, the re-elected mayor could oppose the use of roads and other facilities crucial to building the new site.
Last month, more than 17 years after US and Japan agreed to move the base from a densely populated urban area, officials in the country’s southernmost prefecture finally consented to a landfill that would enable new facilities to be built on the coast of Nago.
The issue had been deadlocked for years, with some Okinawans hugely opposed to any new base.
Many are fed up with playing host to a disproportionate share of the US military presence in Japan.
Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, long a thorn in the central government’s side, gave the plan his approval after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised Okinawa financial aid of at least ￥300 billion (US$2.9 billion) every year until fiscal 2021.
Japan and the US agreed on the relocation plan in 1996, but it never went ahead because of opposition from many residents of Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of about 47,000 US troops based in Japan.
Opponents support the removal of the US base, but want it relocated out of Okinawa altogether.