Okinawa Vice Gov. Kurayoshi Takara on Monday urged the government to close a key U.S. military base in the prefecture by 2018, the first reference to the exact deadline by an Okinawa official for a long-stalled bilateral relocation plan with Washington.
Takara made the remarks as the government held the first meeting of a newly launched working group to discuss how to reduce the burden on Okinawa of hosting the bulk of U.S. military bases.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita, who heads the working group, did not clarify Tokyo's response, only saying that the government aims to "remove the danger of keeping Futenma as it is at the earliest date possible."
Takara, however, told reporters after the meeting that Okinawa and Tokyo are on the same page over the issue. "No one denied my idea at the meeting, so I take it that we share the same view with the government" on the base closure deadline, he said.
Tokyo has launched a consultative framework with Okinawa to soothe the way for the contentious relocation of the U.S. Marines' Futenma Air Station from densely populated Ginowan to Nago in the prefecture.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged financial and other support before Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approved landfill work in December to build a new replacement facility to accommodate the functions of the Futenma air base.
Nakaima has made requests to the government that the Futenma base should be closed within five years, and some training exercises by the U.S. military's MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft be moved out of Okinawa.
Tokyo and Washington agreed in 1996 to relocate Futenma, but the plan has been held up, due mainly to strong local opposition amid a number of accidents and crimes involving U.S. servicemen.