Defense Minister visit fails to advance Henoko talks
Defense Minister Gen Nakatani made a quick visit to Okinawa over the weekend hoping to bend the ears of local officials to take more positive stance on the government plan to relocate the MCAS Futenma to Henoko.
However, his Aug. 16 visit was not a success by any measure, and instead he himself got an earful from Okinawan elected officials.
Nakatani met Nago Mayor Susumu Inamime at a hotel in Nago in the first meeting between a defense minister and Nago mayor since 2011 when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power.
At the meeting, Nakatani stated, “While consideration was given to relocating the MCAS Futenma outside of Okinawa Prefecture under the Democratic Party of Japan administration, the conclusion was reached that relocating the base to Henoko was the only possible solution. Then the Liberal Democratic Party returned to power, and I want to explain the government’s thinking.”
However, Inamine did not want to hear any of that answering, “Relocating the base to Henoko is one point that will be very difficult to accept based on public opinion surveys of Okinawa residents and the results of various elections.”
In a press conference after the meeting Inamine stated, “I don’t feel in any way that the distance between us has narrowed,” the mayor said. “It has been five years and six months since I became mayor, but I have yet to hear a detailed explanation for the reasons of the relocation. I absolutely don’t sense any sincerity,” he concluded.
Nakatani tried to be more diplomatic, and said, “We had a frank exchange of opinions. I hope to hold additional meetings in the future.”
Later in the same day, Nakatani met Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga in the Okinawa Prefectural Government Building in Naha. The meeting with Onaga was part of a month-long schedule of intense meetings between the central government and Okinawa Prefecture government officials to resolve the Henoko relocation issue during a government declared one-month suspension period of the relocation work.
“After listening to the requests and opinions of mayors of local governments that host U.S. military bases in Okinawa Prefecture, I want to cooperate in putting together a response,” Nakatani told Onaga.
Onaga did not want to hear Nakatani’s sales pitch, either and said instead, “Although I spoke with the chief Cabinet secretary, there was no deepening of our discussion. There was essentially no talk outside of the Japan-U.S. agreement that Henoko was the only solution.”
Nakatani tried to explain the need to have U.S. bases located in Okinawa from a deterrence standpoint, but Onaga simply reiterated his opposition to the government plan.