Gov't invites tenders for U.S. base relocation in Okinawa

Japan's Defense Ministry on Tuesday invited tenders for work related to the construction of a controversial replacement facility for a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa despite local opposition to the base relocation.

The ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau hopes to sign contractors by the end of March to build a new base in a coastal area of Nago, where functions of the Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station will be transferred from a crowded residential area of Ginowan under a Japan-U.S. accord.

The bureau plans to spend a year on exploratory boring and designing of the facility before starting land reclamation work in the spring of 2015.

The ministry invited tenders on three orders -- designing of land reclamation work and surveys on the surrounding coral reef as well as equipment to monitor dugong, an endangered marine mammal, in nearby waters.

Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, who was re-elected Sunday with support from opponents of the base relocation plan, told reporters Tuesday that it was "insensitive" of the ministry to ignore the election result and invite bids for the facility.

In Sunday's election, Inamine beat a contender backing the relocation plan and supported by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party. Inamine's victory could possibly delay the central government's plan to build a new military facility in Nago.

On the result of the mayoral election, Abe told a meeting of senior LDP lawmakers Tuesday, "It was disappointing but we hope to implement the relocation based on our basic plan."

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera separately said, "As we have obtained approval from the (Okinawa) prefectural government to reclaim land, we will steadily proceed in accordance with relevant legislation."

Cabinet members paid little attention to the local election outcome as Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approved last December the central government's request for landfill work in Nago, a major hurdle Abe had to clear in order to ensure progress in the project under a Japan-U.S. accord reached in 1996.

On Sunday, Nakaima denied any chance of reviewing his decision because of the result of the Nago mayoral election, revealing a sharp division among politicians in the southern island prefecture.

Nakaima's term as Okinawa governor will expire in December. He has yet to announce whether he will seek re-election.