Japan PM Abe to visit Okinawa Saturday

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting Okinawa on Saturday for talks with Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima on issues such as the stalled Japan-U.S. plan to relocate a U.S. Marine base within the southern island prefecture.

The announcement by government sources of the impending visit came only hours after an Okinawa-led anti-Osprey demonstration in Tokyo.  Mayors of Okinawa’s 41 cities, towns and villages rallied an estimated 4,000 protesters to demand Futenma Marine Corps Air Station be shut down, and all of the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor helicopters now at Futenma be moved off Okinawa, too.

The Okinawa trip will be the first by Abe since he became Japan’s prime minister for the second time last December. He will seek to achieve progress on the stalled transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station within Okinawa before he travels to the United States in late February. Announcing the plan at a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “The government hopes Abe’s visit will be a first step toward rebuilding relations with Okinawa, which were undermined in the past three years (of rule by the Democratic Party of Japan).”  It will be meaningful for the government to hold discussions with local officials, the top government spokesman added.

During the stay, Abe is slated to hold talks with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima and other officials of the prefecture.  Abe is also considering inspecting the Futenma base. Ichita Yamamoto, minister for issues related to Okinawa, will accompany Abe on his Okinawa trip.

At the meeting with Nakaima, Abe is expected to underscore his government’s intention to help promote the economic development in Okinawa by explaining plans to increase government spending related to a project to build a second runway at Naha Airport in the prefecture under a state budget for fiscal 2013 starting in April.
The government is working to arrange Abe’s visit to the United States for the second half of February. By visiting Okinawa before the United States, Abe aims to show consideration to local opponents to the plan to transfer the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma base in Ginowan, Okinawa, to another site in the same prefecture.
Sources say the central government is considering applying for land reclamation in a coastal area in Okinawa Prefecture where the Futenma airfield is supposed to be relocated ahead of Abe’s U.S. trip, now being arranged for Feb. 21 or 22, according to the sources.