First Suga-Onaga meeting fails to bring sides closer
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga made a long awaited visit to Okinawa and met Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga face to face for the first time since Onaga was elected the governor.
Suga, who officially came to the prefecture to attend the ceremony of the return of the former Futenma Housing area, Saturday, in Ginowan, had a face to face meeting with the governor at the Harborview Hotel in Naha on Sunday.
Prior to his trip to Okinawa, Suga told reporters in Tokyo that he wanted to explain the government’s stance and reasoning for the need to construct a replacement facility for the MCAS Futenma on Camp Schwab in Henoko. “I want to have an honest exchange of opinions with Governor Onaga over ways of easing the burden of Okinawa in hosting the U.S. bases, as well as promoting its economic development,” Suga said.
On his part, Governor Onaga said that he would try to make Suga understand what really is the Okinawan public opinion in regards of the relocation, and why it’s impossible to build the new facility in Henoko.
However, after the meeting, the first 30 minutes of which was open to the media, it seems that the parties are as far apart as ever. The only thing that the sides agreed on was that they would continue the dialogue.
Suga insisted that Henoko is the only option. “The relocation to Henoko is necessary to maintain the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance,” Suga told Onaga at the meeting. He also stressed that it’s important to move the MCAS Futenma away from the densely populated area in Ginowan for public safety. “Abandoning the relocation plan would mean that the Futenma base will stay where it is,” Suga insisted.
Onaga also stuck to his guns. “It will be impossible to build the new facility in Henoko, the solution to this has to be found somewhere else,” Onaga reiterated. Onaga also pointed out to the election wins that the opponents of Henoko plan, including himself, had in last year’s elections. “The election results show that Okinawan residents are overwhelmingly opposing the plan,” Onaga stated.
Speaking to the media afterwards, Suga called the meeting “the first step in talks between the central and prefectural governments.” He added that, “The central government remains committed to the current relocation plan.”
Onaga said that although he welcomes the continuing dialogue, “there will be no change in his opposition to building the Futenma replacement facility in Henoko or any other location in Okinawa.”