Foreign, defense ministers may attend memorial ceremony in Okinawa

The government is making arrangements to send the foreign and defense ministers to a memorial ceremony in Okinawa Prefecture later this month to commemorate those who died in the Battle of Okinawa, the government's top spokesman said Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera are likely to join Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and health minister Norihisa Tamura, who are also planning to attend the ceremony, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.

The ceremony is scheduled for June 23, the anniversary of the end of the battle, at the Peace Memorial Park in the city of Itoman. The Okinawa prefectural government said it would be the first time for Japan's foreign and defense ministers to attend.

"It is the basic stance of the Abe administration to reduce Okinawa's base-linked burdens, while feeling empathy for those who have pulled through hardships and standing closer together with the people of Okinawa," Suga said. "Accordingly, we are considering such arrangements."

Despite local opposition, Abe's government is pushing for the U.S. military's Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to be relocated within Okinawa to Nago, sticking to a bilateral agreement between the United States and Japan.

Tokyo filed an application with Okinawa in March to reclaim land in coastal waters for the relocation of the base to Nago, but Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who has the authority to either accept or reject the application, has taken a cautious stance.

The government has been following through on its agreement reached in April with the United States to return part of the land and facilities south of the Kadena Air Base in the prefecture in a show of its commitment and determination to help reduce the burden on Okinawa.

"Their attendance will be meaningful if it comes true," Nakaima told reporters on Wednesday after meeting with Abe at the prime minister's office in Tokyo.

Nakaima and other leaders from local governments in Okinawa called on the government to provide more details and explanations about the bilateral agreement on the planned return of property near the air base.

"We still don't know the details yet even though we examined the plan," Nakaima said. The governor reiterated his objection to the deployment of the U.S. military's MV-22 Osprey in Okinawa as another batch of the tilt-rotor aircraft is expected to arrive in Japan this summer.

"Safety concerns among the people of Okinawa have not been allayed. On top of that, we strongly doubt (the U.S. military) has abided by the rules" agreed on by the United States and Japan, he said.

The prime minister responded by telling Nakaima and those at the meeting that the government will work hard to alleviate the burden on Okinawa, but added that Washington as well as Tokyo would need to decide, Nakaima said.