The decision to continue landfill work in Okinawa Prefecture to relocate the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station was taken prior to a referendum, in which the majority of voters opposed plans to build a new military facility in the prefecture, replacing the Futenma base, NHK reported on Tuesday.
Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said at the Upper House Budget Committee that the government had decided in advance to continue the project adding that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had given his consent, according to NHK broadcaster.
The vote took place on 24 February: over 70 percent of Okinawa residents voted against the relocation of the US air base from the prefecture’s city of the Ginowan to a less populated area, Henoko Bay, also in Okinawa. The voter turnout stood at 52 percent. The referendum was not legally binding but underlined Okinawans’ discontent concerning the presence of US military bases in the prefecture. Okinawa residents have also expressed their desire to completely remove the US bases, which house the majority of US military forces in Japan, from the area.
Prior to the referendum, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that the outcome of the ballot would change nothing about the plans to move the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station within the prefecture. Abe, on his part, said after the referendum that the project on base relocation could not be delayed any longer.
Earlier in the day, Suga said that the government would hold talks with Okinawa authorities to discuss ways to reduce the burden of the US military presence on the prefecture and eliminate all risks.
The US Marine Corps base Futenma was constructed in 1945. Talks on its relocation to a less populated area within the Okinawa prefecture started over two decades ago, but the government’s plans have been hampered by local residents’ protests.
While Ginowan residents have been calling on the government to close the Futenma base due to their environmental concerns, aircraft incidents and accidents related to US troops’ behaviour, residents of Henoko district are also unwilling to see the base relocated to their region. The administration of Okinawa would like to see the base outside the prefecture instead of its relocation to another site within its administrative borders and called a non-binding referendum in hope that it would demonstrate the prefecture’s strong opposition to the relocation project.