Japan said it would push through with plans to relocate the Futenma air station to Nago city despite a deal breaker brought by the re-election of Mayor Susumi Inamine, who fiercely opposed the move.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga described the results of the weekend polls as “very regrettable” but added that Tokyo would “patiently” persuade Inamine to change his mind.
“There will be no change in going ahead,” with the plans, Suga told reporters in Tokyo.
“Japan is a country ruled by law and we will carry out the project calmly based on legal procedures.”
The controversial US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma was set to be moved to Nago, a less-populated city on the east coast of Okinawa, from Ginowan where it stood for 17 years.
The long-delayed plan, first conceived under an agreement between the US and Japan in 1996, faced staunch opposition from officials and residents, who wanted the US air base off of the Okinawan island.
Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima gave the go-ahead for the land reclamation plans in Henoko Bay in exchange for billions of development assistance fund.
Inamine vowed to do everything in his power to block the move, saying he would to “reject all procedures” linked to the relocation and deny permits for the project.
“The plan must go back to square one,” Inamine said.
“That we won’t build the base has been my campaign pledge, so I will firmly commit to this cause.”
Accidents involving Osprey aircraft and crimes such as rape have soured relations between the local community and the Futenma air base.
Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera echoed Suga’s comments.
“We hope to make steady progress on the relocation plan in order to eliminate risks posed by Futenma,” he said.
“It was a local election on the island and I don’t think it will immediately have a direct impact on the relocation issue.”
By Maesie Bertumen
Image of Osprey aircraft: #PACOM/Flickr