Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima set to seal US airbase deal

Abe's sweeteners seem to have finally won over island as he seeks closer ties with Washington

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 December, 2013, 1:24am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 December, 2013, 1:24am


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks set to win approval from Okinawa for the long-stalled relocation of a US military base after a meeting with the island's pugnacious governor.

A deal would end a dispute that has been a source of friction with Washington and also mark a significant achievement for Abe, who has sought closer US ties amid a simmering territorial row with China.

This is yet another step we are taking to modernise our alliance

Abe pledged an unheralded cash bonanza for the archipelago, in the form of stimulus spending that commentators say could help persuade governor Hirokazu Nakaima to drop his longstanding opposition to construction of a new airbase.

"You presented surprisingly impressive proposals. I express my heartfelt appreciation as the representative of Okinawa's 1.4 million people," the governor told Abe.

Abe told Nakaima he would set aside at least 300 billion yen (HK$22.3 billion) for Okinawa's economic stimulus budget every year until fiscal 2021.

The package of proposals also includes halting the operations of the Futenma airbase within five years and the early return of the land.

The local politician said he would make a formal decision by today on whether to approve the government's plan to relocate the airbase on the coast.

"I think we will have a good New Year's Day," he said, looking set to give it his blessing.

Abe also told the governor: "The government will do anything possible."

He also said Tokyo and Washington had reached agreement on negotiating an environmental stewardship framework which would supplement the Status of Forces Agreement.

"This framework will help guide our activities going forward related to our shared goal of reducing impact to Japan's precious natural landscape as we continue to conduct operations that provide for the common defense of Japan," US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said. "This is yet another step we are taking together in order to update and modernise our alliance to ensure it is able to meet the security challenges of the 21st century."

Nakaima's approval would mark a breakthrough in Japan-US efforts to follow through on an original 1996 agreement to shut the Futenma airbase, which is in a densely populated urban area.

The US reaffirmed in 2006 it would re-site the base on the coast, but the move has been stymied by opposition throughout Okinawa, which feels overburdened by its outsized share of the US military presence in Japan.

Campaigners say the planned new site, in Nago is home to a rare sea mammal called the dugong and the landfill required would badly affect its habitat.